Even at January 5, it looks certain that 2018 will be a year of continuous, quite possibly accelerating, Mainlandization in Hong Kong. Not a day is going by without another step towards authoritarianism – a young activist being tried or retried, a pro-dem academic losing his job, an opinionated foreign visitor being turned away at the airport.
The effect is (presumably intentionally) numbing. But Beijing’s imperial edict on co-location (officially termed an NPCSC decision) is different. It crosses a line, partly because it enables Mainland law enforcement to operate openly in part of the city, but mainly because it shatters the idea that the sovereign power might be subject to any legal constraints within Hong Kong. By conjuring a legal justification for co-location out of nowhere, without any reference to the Basic Law, let alone the local laws and process, Beijing establishes law by fiat, rule by man, might-is-right as a reality here. In principle, all bets are now off.
South China Morning Post business columnists, who would normally ignore non-financial affairs, show signs of discomfort. This is Beijing’s way of convincing us that it is in charge, says one, which points to things like censorship down the road, adds another.
Most companies here have exposure to and interests in the Mainland, and they will be unperturbed so long as Beijing doesn’t crush the life and freedoms out of Hong Kong too quickly or unexpectedly. The question from a business viewpoint is: will the Communist Party be able to criminalize opinions, neuter the legislature and sidestep judges and juries discreetly and gradually enough?
It’s possible that the forthcoming Legislative Council by-elections on March 11 will be the last ones before candidate-barring and LegCo procedure-rigging make running/voting a pointless farce. (Serious prediction for when boycotts bring the turnout below 30-40%: the government makes voting mandatory.) I declare the weekend open with a suggestion to watch two fun issues that could embarrass pro-Beijing forces – the ding rights-selling village house developer scam, and the juicy prospect of converting Fanling Golf Club to affordable housing.