Just when you thought Hong Kong’s pro-establishment legislators couldn’t make themselves look any more servile and squalid, along comes WhatsApp-Gate. Leaked June 18 instant messages among the pro-Beijing politicians reveal nothing earth-shattering, but contain enough to further diminish their pitiful image following the Great Legco Walkout Fiasco a week ago.
The most damning material is the participation in group messages by Legco president Tsang Yok-sing. As a leading member of the DAB – a local Communist Party front – he would be expected to take part in discussing the pro-Beijing lawmakers’ tactics. But as the supposedly neutral speaker of the assembly, he certainly crossed a line ethically by passing on ideas about the opposition’s plans. And yet… The main damage done is to his own carefully crafted reputation for moderation and fair play. And his input was entirely unhelpful to his own side in practice.
The messages (especially after the idiots realize they have missed the voting) give the impression of a bunch of naughty children trying to work out what it is they’ve done, and how and whether to apologize. It now seems that the original excuse for the walkout – they were waiting for New Territories warlord Lau Wong-fat to arrive – was untrue. (The fact that most observers accepted the explanation as so-desperate-it’s-credible reflects how low the pro-Beijing rabble rank in public esteem.) Naughty children would have worked through this with more panache.
If the WhatsApp revelations show Legco’s pro-Beijing members as hapless crawlers, the broader United Front reaction reminds us what a divided and artificial alliance it really is. We are assured that there is no support for a witch hunt to find out who did the leaking, which means vicious eye-scratching is going on behind the scenes. And Beijing’s local Liaison Office is pretending all is well and even being nice to people, suggesting there is Major Hell to Pay. And snotty local National People’s Congress deputies’ WhatsApp messages are also being leaked, perhaps by themselves, in an effort to seem relevant – I mean, do we really care what Fanny Law thinks right now?
What’s really going on?
Hong Kong is a sideshow to national-level factional struggles and concentration of power. A decision from on high to crush much of the local Liaison Office, DAB and local shoe-shiners as part of Xi Jinping’s latest clean-up could look like this. It is easy to see why members of Beijing’s coalition of devout Communist-worshipers, cynical shoe-shiners and pathetic opportunists might see some major malevolence at work here. Events have conspired to make them appear as a grouping so wretched and grubby and infantile that it is almost unfair.
I declare the weekend open with the thought that, instead, perhaps we are seeing the limits of the Leninist grip on this pluralist environment. This episode displayed, among other things, Hong Kong’s press remaining free and raucous, and an almost charming lack of paranoia or security-worries among pro-establishment Internet users.
Beijing’s political reform process in Hong Kong has been one long series of screw-ups that backfired. So it (for now, perhaps) ends. China long ago identified and named its friends and favourites in Hong Kong, and the city can see, more than ever, that this sorry parade of specimens are clowns. So distasteful do they seem that, by contrast, the pro-democrats – from Emily Lau to Long Hair to nativist students – can’t help but be left with a collective image of integrity, maturity and purpose.