The urge to purge


Are the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities so paranoid or stupid enough (respectively) that they would use mumbled/bumbled/fumbled oath-taking as an excuse to eject another dozen or so pro-democrats from the Legislative Council? Evidence that they are comes in the form of a menacing Mainland legal official who estimates that 15 members could be disqualified. Skeptics might point to that patriotic taxi union boss filing a lame-stunt judicial review.


The pro-dems in question gather round podiums to do their depressing pitiful-morose-doomed victims act. Deep down, they should be hoping that the government does purge the legislature of half its democratically elected opposition members. The city’s ruling order would be taking what little credibility and legitimacy it still has and handing it over on a plate to the Long Hairs, Nathans and Eddies for whom hundreds of thousands voted.

People who take our rigged institutions seriously might fear that the administration would take advantage of a depleted legislature and push through, say, Article 23 national security laws. In reality, moderate pan-dems would probably boycott the proceedings or even resign their seats and gum things up. But the outright rejection and alienation of over half the electorate would kill any remaining pretense that the Hong Kong government ‘serves the community’.

As things are, Beijing is determined to expel the Youngspiration duo, and possibly one other young localist, for oath-taking failure. If the courts play along, it will be a classic United Front-style success, with two enemies of the state isolated and crushed, and the broader opposition divided, while the masses believe the pair deserved it and brought in on themselves. Attacking a Hong Kong national treasure like Long Hair – adored by rich and poor, young and old – would have the opposite effect.

Although we refer to the administration of Chief Executive CY Leung as a junior mover in all this, it is as much a casualty of the Leninist bullying as anyone. The word is (and plain observation confirms it) that one minute Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen and buddies sincerely wanted and expected the Youngspiration Oath Outrage to meander its way through our dependable and valued courts, the next minute a top Beijing official has lost all patience and angrily swatted the hapless local functionaries aside with an instant ‘interpretation’.

Exactly why Beijing freaked out this way – over a couple of weedy HK geeks – we cannot say. The theory that Hong Kong is being used as a weapon in a Zhongnanhai power-struggle or blame-shifting brawl sounds as good as anything. The other explanation is that Xi Jinping’s regime, petrified by looming economic disaster and enemies everywhere, is so insecure that it genuinely perceives Hong Kong localism as the harbinger of the collapse of Communist Party rule.

One thing that is clear is that the Chinese leaders are not thinking things through. Even the surgical removal of the Youngspiration duo from the legislature does nothing to eliminate separatism, and probably boosts it. Removing opposition lawmakers undermines rather than bolsters the local government’s authority. More legal actions and two or 15 by-elections are not what officials need right now. Article 23, should it rear its head, poses a greater threat to the administration than it does to civil rights. And in the midst of the mess, the Chief Executive quasi-election and either the reappointment of CY Leung or an even less thinkable alternative. Oh, and they’re watching it all over in Taiwan.

The declaring of the weekend open is in silence today. For anyone interested – the NYT gets onto the (whiny and defensive-sounding) Asia Society Umbrella movie story.


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12 Responses to The urge to purge

  1. Revolution says:

    You underestimate the Communist leadership. They are thinking things through. They’ve had enough of democracy, freedom of speech and thought, and one country two systems in Hong Kong, and they are going to take those things away.

    They know what they do may create chaos, boost separatism, etc. They don’t care. They will prevail anyway.

    Sad, but true.

  2. Walter De Havilland says:

    In fairness to Beijing, they have consistently had a couple of red-line issues. Sovereignty and independence being top of the list of no-go topics. The pro-dems have wisely steered away from these topics until now. Yau and Leung jumped right over that line, in a performance worthy of a Sixth Form debate. They clearly intended to offend and rile the dye-haired brigade in Zhongnanhai. Trouble is, the kids having kicked off the game, Beijing is now in possession of the ball and taking repeated kicks into an empty goal. I wonder if the kids are regretting their actions.

  3. Laguna Lurker says:

    I must reluctantly agree with Revolution. The blundering bullies behind the Tiananmen Massacre have never—and likely will never acknowledge the error of their ways. They won’t think twice about crushing all trace of dissent in Hong Kong.

    Who is going to come to the rescue? Certainly not the United States, which has a mutual defence treaty with the Philippines. Where was the US Navy in 2012 when China invaded Scarborough Shoal and militarised it? Little wonder that Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to cold-shoulder the Americans.

  4. Headache says:

    Revolution is right. And when Beijing has finished remaking HK in its own image, it will point to whatever still functions here and claim that as proof that its system works.

    Feel sorry for Rimsky? Ha! The man sold out years ago. If he didn’t see this coming, he’s as stupid as he is slimy. From what I’ve seen, that’s very possible.

  5. Real Fax Paper says:

    Article 23 still poses a threat to civil rights, all the same. Unless I’ve misunderstood something, Legco is not prevented from passing bills with seats vacant pending a by-election, and I’m not sure I’m so confident that moderate pan-dems numbering less than the third of seats necessary to veto it could do anything to stop its passage. Even in the instance that they maintain their veto block, boycotting or resigning certainly won’t help; after all, had they boycotted the Electoral Reform bill, it would have passed, wouldn’t it?

    Just because the institution is rigged doesn’t mean it cannot be used detrimentally to our rapidly diminishing civil liberties. In fact, it’s very much the other way around. Why wouldn’t people take that seriously?

  6. Property Developer says:

    With great respect, Hemlock, for your blog, which puts all others to shame, I do think you may be clutching at straws here. For so long, one of your arguments has been that, if Peking goes too far, this will alienate HK people or the wider world and lead to ever greater opposition, such as bigger and bigger demonstrations.

    The Youngspiration duo may regret their tactics — with hindsight, they could have taken the oath as required, then stood firm once in Legco. But that would just have been putting off the evil day.

    It now seems possble that the pan-dems will lose their veto power and article 23 will be rammed through. A resignation by Long Hair won’t change anything. In any case, it makes no difference: the CP can do anything it wishes, including holding back on the threat of direct rule, parading one or two tanks, eliminating one or two judges, kicking out selected “foreigners” of non-Chinese descent or sacking ICAC staff.

    History shows that communist dictatorships, the Chinese one in particular, win in the short and medium term — may indeed take pleasure in kicking in the brave souls who resist them.

    Thinking it through isn’t necessary: maybe they’ve got a master plan, maybe they’re making it up as they go along. But there’s no longer any way of defeating them. All we can do is hope they eventually self-destroy — or get humiliated by Trump.

  7. Revolution says:

    And as for this:

    “Article 23, should it rear its head, poses a greater threat to the administration than it does to civil rights”

    I could not disagree more. Laguna Lurker is right. Who is going to stop its implementation and use if they get the majority? Not the USA, not the UK. Nobody will.

    If it had come in back in 2003, they might well not have used it then. They will now.

  8. PD says:

    Apologies if it’s not relevant, but Leonard Cohen has died.

  9. Monkey the Indefatigable says:

    The trap is set…

    Never underestimate the tenacity of native HKG-er lawyers and judges trained in the English common law system, all of whom are facing the extinction of their profession as they know it in Hong Kong, and whose economic interests are now clearly aligned in opposition to the CCP.

    Beijing’s face is on the line, and I see no strategic option for the CCP in the event their distorted interpretation is “re-interpreted” in favour of our inalienable political rights by some subversive lawyers and judges within our inherited rights-based common law system … beyond formal divestiture of 1 country 2 systems… with huge international and internal face loss.

    I am not 100% sure, but my initial feeling is that this play by the NPC is one of the greatest political blunders in the 21st Century. Brute force and control by fear of violence may work with the farmers in the hinterlands, but there is a substantial risk the CCP is going to become an international laughingstock, as it will appear they are outsmarted by geeky teenagers … and no authoritarian regime that rules by fear can survive ridicule from its own citizens.


  10. @PD – probably of a broken heart at the way the world is going.

  11. Cassowary says:

    As long as the banks don’t flee en masse, Beijing won’t care what a crapfest they turn Hong Kong into in the name of asserting their dominance.

  12. Stephen says:


    They are starting too and you will find many of them have bigger operations in Singapore than Hong Kong. A lot of this is due to operational costs. However a more assertive CCP will drive talent away – especially local and then they will be forced to move the rest leaving just a token presence here.

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