The ‘loyalty test’ that the Hong Kong government has tried to impose on hopeful election candidates seems to be collapsing. Several localists who refused to sign the declaration are being allowed on the ballot regardless. Another, Edward Leung, is making a big deal of signing it even though he is openly pro-independence. His case offers the possibility of further entertainment from the saga – if the authorities subsequently pursue him for fibbing about his thought-crimes.
As a polite and understated academic quoted in the South China Morning Post puts it, the government did not plan this properly.
Indeed, it looks as if the idea was planned and implemented badly on purpose. Even bureaucrats get pissed off. Since CY Leung took office four years ago, Beijing’s local Liaison Office has assumed control over the fight against Hong Kong’s subversives and counter-revolutionaries. The smearing of pro-democracy activists, the police tear-gas frenzy at the beginning of the Occupy/Umbrella protests, the selective prosecutions, the interference in university governing bodies – all suggest Chinese officials losing patience with this foreign, rule-of-law ‘impartial public service’ BS, and showing the locals how it’s done. All backfired, but the ‘loyalty test’ particularly overstepped the mark.
The loss of two top people from the Independent Commission Against Corruption takes this Mainlandization of governance to its most disturbing level yet. Today’s SCMP carries a reassuring op-ed from a former ICAC boss. He says he has no insider knowledge of the agency today, but nonetheless denies that political interference had any role in the recent departure of Rebecca Li. The job she had taken over was massively challenging, he says – having struggled to do it himself back in the day – and Li should not walk away. It would be persuasive if this were not happening in the midst of the Liaison Office undermining so many other institutions (let alone the unfortunate context of an investigation against Chief Executive CY Leung).
Even if it’s true, people won’t believe it – this is what happens when you tarnish a hard-won reputation. The pro-establishment Standard yesterday saw fit to report that the New York Times had run a story about the perceived weakening of the ICAC and other Hong Kong institutions…
Hong Kong’s leaders constantly remind us that the city relies on its reputation for the integrity of its institutions – an independent judiciary, clean bureaucracy, free press and so on. But these local officials must also serve the Chinese Communist Party, and the CCP despises this ‘integrity’.
As Beijing’s response to the South China Sea ruling shows, China’s leaders do not believe that a court is ever impartial, only controlled by one side or the other. When they look at the West and see a democratic election result, jury decision, media revelation, regulatory ruling, business dispute resolution, or a market-based outcome like a currency or stock-market shift, they see only manipulation and a struggle in which someone stronger has won and someone weaker has lost. To them, separation of powers, checks and balances or market forces are fabrication and lies.
The apparent failure of the ‘loyalty test’ will no doubt make the Liaison Office more determined to stamp out the pro-independence forces as CIA-backed threats to national security. Meanwhile, it is hugely tempting to vote young localists into the Legislative Council.
Not everyone thinks so. I declare the weekend open with the amusing sight of one crotchety old woman, seething with jealousy and resentment at idealistic youth wanting to make a difference, who feels entitled to list the kids for their ‘extreme mediocrity and/or lack of achievement’.