Here’s a nice video clip – Carrie Lam before the quasi-election saying she would quit as Chief Executive if the people wanted her to go. It hasn’t aged well. (Nor, in all truth, has she in that short time.) Her opinion poll approval ratings were last seen disappearing down a dark vortex.
Carrie’s administration has, for all practical purposes, been relieved of its serious decision-making governance duties (it is still allowed to manage sewerage-clearing and other municipal stuff). But, for reasons we can only guess at, Beijing is as yet unable or unwilling to hand down any further instructions.
In the absence of leadership, local government is reduced to two visible current functions, plus one remaining future one.
The first is the police, who are trying to beat and tear-gas an angry population into peaceful contentment. They are by all accounts following procedures set out in manuals written years ago, and doubling down on them when they don’t work. There is no-one to tell them to try something different. (Seriously – if they replaced riot cops with old ladies handing out ice-creams, the street violence would end instantly.)
The second is the administration’s press conferences and other activities designed to give us the impression they are in charge when they, we, everyone knows they are not. It is painful and hideous to watch. Even Carrie herself seems uncertain what she is really saying when she ‘clarifies’ that it’s not about ‘not responding to questions’ but about ‘not accepting popular demands’. Walking obliviously into the old ‘refusal to rule out’ trap, she manages to accidentally announce imminent Sweeping Emergency Powers, from curfews to mass-arrests to an Internet shutdown.
The future function the administration has yet to perform is to be ritually decapitated by Beijing to take the blame for everything.
The point is that the ‘Hong Kong government’ has long passed the stage where it is under amazingly incompetent control – it is now on autopilot, repeating the same inanity over and over while the Chinese Communist Party puzzles or argues over what to do. From Xi Jinping’s point of view, there is no ‘win-win’. There’s not even a ‘win’.