So where were we? Oh yes – during the National Security Day publicity campaign, Beijing’s HK Affairs and Liaison Offices were criticizing Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers, even accusing them of possible criminal offenses, for holding up legislative business, including the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Bill.
This sparks a debate on whether these departments can interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, when Basic Law Article 22 says they can’t.
Now the Liaison Office abruptly ends that debate by forcing the Hong Kong government to reword its own press releases overnight as they are published. By the third draft at around 1.00am, the Liaison Office is not a Chinese government ‘department’, but directly under central government control, which is apparently different, despite past statements and documents to the contrary.
The Liaison Office has been organizing local United Front election campaigns and other operations for years. Beijing’s officials clearly started to exert influence over the HK Police, public prosecutions and other functions in the post-Occupy period, and have obviously taken some form of direct control over the police since mid-2019. It was all in the 2014 white paper, which declared Hong Kong’s autonomy to be purely at the CCP’s pleasure.
So the Ever-Transmuting Press Release Saga largely confirms what we all know: the CCP, which is above the law, runs Hong Kong via the Liaison Office. The humiliation of local flunkies having to rewrite statements dictated by the knuckle-draggers at midnight is the message.
Meanwhile, there’s a mass arrest of opposition leaders. To add to the brutish, banana-republic ambience, the Police Commissioner gets stroppy and personal with two of the arrestees – 81-year-old lawyer Martin Lee for showing bravado, and pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai for ‘smearing’ his cops.
Among other detainees: cat-owning barrister Margaret Ng, unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, long-time single-parent activist Cyd Ho and veteran ultra-moderates like Yeung Sam and Albert Ho. A key point: the most venerable of these, like Martin Lee and Ng, are pretty much honorary members of Hong Kong’s traditional business-bureaucrat society. They are personally close to some leading establishment figures.
Reactions include international protest, but also sheer puzzlement. Is Beijing using the pandemic as a distraction, or is this following a separate timetable? Is the idea to disrupt the pan-dems through disqualifications before the September Legislative Council election? Is it to somehow set the scene for pushing through Article 23 National Security laws? Is it to provoke yet more unrest in order to justify martial law?
It’s best not to read too much into it. It accords with the CCP’s mentality that the ‘masses’ who voted in November’s district elections have no minds of their own, and Hong Kong’s protest movement will end if a handful of masterminds and leaders are taken out. It also sends a message that no-one is safe – even aging moderates can be rounded up, so you must all tremble and obey.
Which brings us back to the overlap between pan-dem grandees like Martin Lee and the tycoon-bureaucrat ‘elites’. Beijing is frustrated not just with the Hong Kong rabble, but with its government and its shoe-shiners. This is simply a next step in its insecure and paranoid obsession with crushing all, not just radical, Hong Kong opposition.
It also illustrates the CCP’s complete lack of understanding of Hong Kong but – as with the press-release rewrites – not giving a damn is part of the point.