The Liaison Office – Beijing’s shadow government in Hong Kong – nowadays readily orders the city’s administration what to do. It then sits back and leaves it to the local puppets to clean up afterwards.
From the Chinese party-state’s point of view, expelling correspondent Victor Mallet from Hong Kong would seem like a straightforward Sledgehammer Freak-out Panda-tantrum job. But hapless Chief Executive Carrie Lam has to take ownership of the decision, and bear the resulting attention, questions and general uproar. The reaction has been fierce – perhaps, to the Mainlandization-jaded, surprisingly so.
The Financial Times is going to appeal the refusal of Mallet’s visa. This is presumably futile (‘Immigration Department Admits Error, Blames CCP Pressure’). But it will keep the local administration sweating.
Carrie faces other demands, including from overseas diplomats, that Hong Kong give a reason for the rejection. She will not give an answer (though if Mallet had been dodging taxes or shoplifting at Wellcome, it would’ve been leaked). Indeed she cannot specifically say whether or how the media can handle ‘independence’ as a subject.
Mallet did not break any Hong Kong law. He transgressed only in the ‘rule by law’ sense that enables the Mainland regime to declare enemies guilty of whatever it feels like. Not surprisingly, the press, legal and human rights lobbies are stressing this ‘rule of law’ as much as the ‘press freedom’ side of the controversy. This angle is more sensitive for the business and wider community in Hong Kong. Thus more reason for local officials to sweat.
The affair is damaging Hong Kong’s reputation, with most mainstream international press picking up the story. Keith Richburg writes that ‘The death of Hong Kong’ is now a thing – and that’s in Inkstone News, a South China Morning Post title tasked with making China look oh-so cool and hip.
So poor Carrie has to deal with this mess, like it has anything to do with her. Meanwhile, the Liaison Office drafts its ‘mission accomplished’ report to the big bosses back home.