After dragging the process out for years, the Hong Kong government successfully imprisons (harmless, ‘uncharismatic’) opponents of Beijing on blatantly trumped-up political charges. This happens just as it is trying to push through extradition of suspects to Mainland China on – no-one has any doubt – blatantly trumped-up political charges.
With the Occupy 9 convictions illustrating the dangers, the extradition proposal has attracted unprecedented criticism from overseas, and from the normally-sycophantic local business community. A demonstration yesterday brought a large number of protestors onto the streets. (The organizers estimated 130,000 marchers; the whiny defensiveness of the official press statement suggests that the government doesn’t buy the police count of one-sixth that many.)
The fate of this extradition proposal will expose the limits (or extent) of Hong Kong’s ability to resist the post-2014 trend towards direct rule by the Chinese Communist Party.
One factor will be District Council elections in November. Although the bodies have little power, pro-Beijing candidates hate being accused of supporting unpopular government measures.
A bigger factor is opposition from overseas and local business. This is one of the few constituencies local officials actually listen to, so it is a dilemma. As Philip Bowring mentions (SCMP link above), the government’s willingness to make concessions on extradition for white-collar crimes confirms that the Mainland legal system lacks integrity.
(One of the official lines is that oh-so classy-sounding Western countries – France, no less – have extradition agreements with China. The difference is that France has a democratically elected government that does not take orders from the CCP, while Hong Kong has Carrie Lam.)
Another factor – potentially the biggest – is the prospect of large numbers of people taking to the streets. In a moment of considerable subtlety, Beijing replaced CY Leung with Carrie on the understanding that the lady’s fragrant, warm-and-cuddly vibes would soothe the stroppy Hongkongers. Nothing petrifies the CCP like the masses.
There’s no sign yet that Beijing’s officials will let their local minions postpone the extradition proposal. But even if they did, it would simply increase their resolve to fix the above problems. In other words: further neutralize quasi-electoral politics; tighten ideological control over businessmen or local officials who pander to them; and continue clamping down on street protests and other organized opposition activity.