Beijing official Li Fei delivers his very important speech on How and Why We Will Continue to Crush Worthless Hong Kong Vermin. This was a much-anticipated event because hundreds of schoolchildren were forced to watch via TV links. Local officials urged schools to organize this because, in the new-look Mainlandizing Hong Kong, not forcing kiddies to watch would be disrespectful to the sovereign power.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam is leading the way in making deference to Beijing appear normal – even perhaps wholesome, if not exactly fashionably elegant. Where her predecessors and others insisted for years that Hong Kong enjoyed a ‘high degree of autonomy’ (here’s her abnormally pro-Communist predecessor CY Leung doing it), she now employs the phrase ‘semi-autonomy’.
This downgrading of terminology is selective (‘high degree’ is still a default slogan for defensive whiny responses to foreign criticism), but obviously at the behest of Beijing, as Li Fei made clear in his speech. According to the South China Morning Post…
Li devoted most of his 50-minute speech to Hongkongers’ lack of respect for China’s sovereignty and constitutional authority over the city… [He explained that] Beijing would “jointly govern” Hong Kong with direct control over “important issues”, while the city’s autonomy would be limited to local affairs.
Though not new, this is a clear confirmation that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ promised in the 1980s and 1990s and apparently honored in the 2000s, is over.
Beijing feels that the lack of Article 23 laws enables and encourages the anti-Communist Party and pro-independence sentiment that it finds so petrifying. (Obviously, Chinese officials could never consider the possibility that their own totalitarian attitudes and instincts create Hong Kong’s fear that national security laws would be used for internal suppression.)
It is interesting that Li Fei, like others before him, is publicly prodding the local administration on this. Beijing wants to distance itself from what promises to be a nightmarish fiasco and make it look like Hong Kong’s doing. Local officials bleat about waiting until the time is right (apparently when we have some sort of community-consensus social-harmony thing).
They would be mad to try to push Article 23 forward – yet if Beijing sees it as a solution to pro-independence horror, foot-dragging cannot be an option.
If the government has to go for it, it will presumably try to learn from the failed attempt in 2002-03. For example, it might consider making the public consultation period briefer, or introducing smaller, low-profile, less intimidating pieces of legislation rather than one big scary package. The problem is that anything that does not threaten rule of law or human rights and generally instill fear will probably be too lame and ineffective to satisfy Beijing.
It would be in character for our officials, including law-enforcement, to plan for the last war and assume an identical repeat of 2002-03 opposition and protest tactics. Something for creative and imaginative opponents and protestors to think about. One difference is that the Liaison Office will launch an Occupy-Umbrella-level of United Front activity, so we can expect smear campaigns, fake pro-Article 23 protests, lawfare and similar jollity.
I declare the weekend open with a prediction. Carrie and her officials have little more than a year – less than two – before they need to get moving on this. When you see more Valium delivery trucks entering Government House, you will know.