At the last minute, Hong Kong’s annual policy address is delayed until well into November at the earliest.
The address is a colonial ritual, based on the Queen’s speech that opens the UK Parliament. The Chief Executive recites cliches about the need to sort out various problems, and then announces an array of silly ‘policies’ that fail to solve them. The initiatives are usually small and ad-hoc, and designed to appease a long and tedious check-list of interest groups. Many involve spending, so the exercise overlaps with the banal handouts announced in the budget every Spring.
Forget mouth-frothing about how this shows Carrie Lam ‘doesn’t care’ about Hong Kong people. No-one would notice if the policy address were scrapped and the government simply announced serious policies as and when it comes up with them. This is not a hasty postponement just to allow Carrie to see Xi Dada in Shenzhen – otherwise she would deliver the speech next week.
And the Guardian’s weird theory about a last-ditch attempt to prevent Beijing from downgrading Hong Kong as a financial hub sounds like spin – a sophisticated alternative to blaming Covid-19. Markets, not the CCP, decide where financial hubs will be.
Reading between the lines, it looks like Beijing’s new overseers in town have found out this charade is about to take place, and that our politicians and media consider it a big deal. And they have ordered the finalized draft (along with all those flashy booklets and posters) to be tossed aside so they can rewrite it.
The new knuckle-draggers running the Liaison Office do not have any emotional attachment to the policy address tradition. They will simply see it as another occasion where they must step in and micromanage Hong Kong’s puppet government.
This is where it gets interesting. We can be sure they will rewrite the speech to boost the ideological correctness of its content. So expect more on patriotism in schools, the need to suppress separatism and terrorist threats, and on Beijing’s plans for the Greater Bay Area. Look for multiple references to the glorious motherland, namechecks for Xi Jinping (maybe even ‘thought’) and belligerent rhetoric of the sort now common in government press releases.
The telling part will be the coverage – if any – of livelihood issues like welfare or housing. The CCP doesn’t do hearts and minds. But even the most obtuse Liaison Office director must have noticed that post-1997 administrations’ contempt for people’s material well-being has played a significant part in generating an angry and alienated populace. We know they are not huge fans of the property tycoons, or of the bureaucrats who usually write insipid policy addresses. The revised speech will show whether the knuckle-draggers want to start running Hong Kong’s social and economic policies. Frankly, it might not be a bad thing if they do.