Not a lot of variety in the headlines today. Hong Kong doesn’t handle tragedy with ease. In some places, dozens can die daily in trains or mines and no-one cares; in others, communities shrug and move on after this month’s maniac with a semi-automatic sprays innocents in a school or mall. In an extraordinarily safe city, grieving for large numbers of dead strangers is almost an otherworldly experience. Some are self-conscious about it, and others perhaps pay too much attention to detail.
Obviously, the first step is to Google ‘black handkerchiefs’. Indeed, there are such things, and the search engine suggests two main users: Israeli Olympic athletes remembering the 1972 Munich massacre and gay male seekers of casual sex using colour codes to indicate that they are into… sadomasochism. As we mark the first 100 days in office of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung, the question on everyone’s lips is: why is this guy doing this? With a wipe of his nose, CY explains all.
CY’s first three months have had a new and distinctive flavour. There has always been something abstract about ‘integration’. Now – bearing the useful pejorative ‘Mainlandization’ – it’s suddenly real. CY seems to regard managing it as a mission, whether it’s curbing excesses like mainland mothers or parallel traders, pushing National Education to the point of provoking civil disobedience, or getting Beijing’s representatives out of their seclusion at the Liaison Office to come on in and be part of the family.
The appearance of Liaison Office Deputy Director Li Gang at Queen Mary Hospital on the night of the ferry tragedy – with CY playing eunuch to Li’s Empress Dowager Cixi – might have been intended as a gesture of sympathy, but it looked and felt bizarre enough to partially overshadow the fatalities. CY’s protestations that he was personally running the rescue operation were similarly jarring; they only make sense as a response to the ‘order’ top leaders in Beijing publicly issued that the Hong Kong authorities take the accident seriously. Are we supposed to think Beijing is really concerned, and therefore loveable, etc? Or is this a pattern we need to get used to, where the CE defers to Beijing’s emissary and pretends, Mainland-style, to be hands-on manager of the emergency services’ operations in times of crisis?
CY could have been (and can still be) a popular and successful CE. The things he would need to do are pretty much the same things that would soothe the anti-Mainland and anti-Beijing backlash. Administratively, it would not be too difficult to reduce the crush of Mainland visitors and make homes more available. But the script calls for ‘integration’, not a return to relative isolation, or at least insulation, from the Mainland. Restricting Shenzhen folks’ visits or barring non-residents from buying property sends an atrocious message to the nation as a whole, let alone just to Hong Kong. So, if we can’t have that, we have to carry on with this self-flagellation. Being swamped with Mainlanders is good for you and necessary so live with it. Except, for all their passive and placid ways, Hong Kong people probably won’t (or can’t). So something is going to snap. Meanwhile, CY is busy working on his next image-battering mess: insisting on a means test for the revamped old-age welfare payments in the face of broad opposition in the Legislative Council. (Hint: remind the lawmakers that the extra HK$4 billion a year it would cost without means-testing could otherwise be spent on people who need it.)