Hong Kong is not in shock exactly, but it is raising a semi-curious eyebrow. For the first time in their government careers, Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-shing and Civil Service Secretary Paul Tang have come to the public’s attention in a big way. And they have done it by resigning.
Were they pushed or did they jump? In some ways it is an academic question: to be defenestrated from the CY Leung administration must be merciful relief in itself. In their euphoria at having exited, the two men may not even know for sure, and certainly don’t care. Tsang’s bizarre statement reads like he was drugged and, being told at gunpoint to write a resignation letter, scribbled ‘Outta here!’ with a deranged laugh. (Tang, a lifelong bureaucrat, regales us with ‘time with family’ bilge.)
The official rumour is that they were fired for their poor performance over the Umbrella Revolution. Tsang failed to prevent the city’s youth from coming under the sway of the hostile foreign forces behind the Occupy movement, while Tang was negligent in keeping the civil service onside. (You may not have noticed the avid support among bureaucrats for the pro-democracy uprising, but you didn’t exactly see them opposing it did you? The Communist Party detects such things.)
When such a rumour appears so effortlessly everywhere in the press, we can take it with a pinch of salt. Perhaps Beijing’s locally based fixers are using the cabinet reshuffle as an opportunity to remind new and existing ministers that they are expected to run Hong Kong like the Mainland cadres control Tibet or Xinjiang.
Tang and his role as Civil Service boss is too boring to bother with. Tsang, on the other hand, is an intriguing person – a true devout believer in the Communist faith. He is one of few people in Hong Kong who (leaving aside any possible factional struggles) could talk as some sort of equal to comrades at the Liaison Office. If they told him to round up and brainwash every geeky pro-democracy schoolkid in town, and he said it was a dumb idea, they would probably accept it. He would also be honoured to be the subject of an official rumour that he had been fired for incompetence. Being kicked in the teeth by the Party is the ultimate pleasure for these people.
CY is replacing Tsang with Lau Kong-wah, one of the most pilloried and pitiful specimens you could hope for. (Typically, the pro-democrats go into a huff about how Lau might use his new position against them in November’s District Council elections. The correct response would be to cackle manically in glee.) This appointment would have required Beijing’s blessing. Indeed, it may be Beijing’s sick and cruel way to increase CY’s unpopularity in preparation for the time when they toss him aside. Seems superfluous, but the only other explanation is that in their paranoia they only feel safe entrusting the inconsequential Home Affairs portfolio to the most pathetic and easily stomped-on loser they can find.
Lau comes complete with his very own well-established, instantly recognizable meme, in which he peers out of a garbage bin. Observers of online-parody fads probably thought this jolly visual concept, with its many amusing variations and artistic/theatrical possibilities, had peaked during Occupy (when he sat dumbstruck during a debate with a group of the aforementioned schoolkids). Instead, to our delight, it has only just started.