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Hong Kong Heat, Part 8

By Bill Stork

As I write this, Taiwan is going to the polls.  It has long been the sentiment that the “One Country, Two Systems” planned for Hong Kong was initially designed as a future model for how Taiwan would function once it ‘reunited’ with the mainland.

Interestingly, this has now come into play in the current Taiwan situation, as there had been earlier doubts that the current leader would be elected to another term after her party performed so dismally in the last legislative election. However, ‘fear of China’ has caused her polls to rise incredibly fast, much due to how things are playing out in Hong Kong.     [Side note: there are still local issues at play in Taiwan, and I would surmise that her party will not get a majority in the legislative branch, despite the HK situation.]

There is so much going on in the US political, and even foreign policy arena, that Hong Kong news is no longer so ‘vibrant’ as to get into the USA news feeds.

Yet, inquiring minds do need to know, and here is my modest contribution!

The first questions I am are asked are:

Q:  Has HK returned to calm?

A:  Easy answer – No.

Q:  Any new developments?

A:  Yes, quite a few!

Q:  What seems most important?

A:   Recently HK had elections for its District Councils.  Before this happened there was a huge increase in those adding their names to the election-eligible roster … and mostly these were in the younger age groups.

Q: Results?

A: Three things!   First, a huge surge in the number of those signing up to be part of those participating in the vote! Second, those who have been in the pro-Beijing parties were severely defeated by those in the pro-democratic camps.  Third, it was the first weekend in months in which there were NO Police-Vs-Activists activities, none at all! Calm, with the vision that – carefully – this could be continued!

Q:  And how did Beijing and the HK government respond?

A:  Interestingly, this happened just before the scheduled annual visit by the HK Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to Beijing to deliver her ‘report card.’

Since, of course, in the current system for (s)elections of the Hong Kong  CE, she had been a ‘Beijing choice,’ Beijing could not repudiate her.  Still, Beijing is rankled by the continuing activism that is getting increasingly violent, on both sides – protesters and police. Essentially, they have told her to clean up the mess.

Q:  Will there be any help for her in doing so?

A:   That is what poses the problem for Beijing!  How to continue, for financial and other reasons, the concept of ‘One Country; Two Systems.”  For Beijing to take too much of a role would severely undermine HK’s economic ‘independence’ on which Beijing desperately depends.  Secondly, to be too active would further cause activism with the HK populace.  [An unwritten addendum would be related to the Taiwan election and the relationship between Taiwan and Trump (here I do not say USA, as I do not think Trump actually has a policy for this area of the world, only a response to single actions). Yet, for political reasons, huge amounts continue to be budgeted for Taiwan’s military/naval/air forces — and also some more often political-decided cruises by US Naval vessels in their Taiwan Straits.]

Further, Beijing has indicated its ‘upset’ by removing the previously appointed Governmental ‘liaison’ Representative to Hong Kong. The new one has no prior experience with Hong Kong, but has a reputation for being anti-corruption in Shanxi.   He has now had a ‘courtesy’ dinner with Carrie Lam at Government House, and has also made a ‘courtesy call’ to meet with Hong Kong’s first CE, Tung Chee-hwa. But no pronouncements have been made that I am aware of.

[Tung Chee-hwa remains a Big Cheese in the current Chinese govt.  He was first (s)elected to be HK first CE by the 400-member of the then-Election Committee. He is now vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Big cheese indeed!]

Q: Aside from the election results, how are the people of HK responding?

A: Nervously, not willing, often, to put forth a ‘judgment.’  There are for me as a US passport holder, weekly ‘Alerts’ from the US Consulate General’s office as to anticipated ‘activities’ for which one needs to take care.  As these are not always complete, I also depend on other sources.

Obviously, there was to be an economic downturn once the activism began. The hotels and tourism sectors have been severely hurt, as have small shops and restaurants that tourists visited. Many of the latter are now shuttered.  It remains unclear as to how the HK govt will address these issues.  Hong Kong is in technical recession, and the Finance Secretary has issued a statement that negative growth is expected this year

Many of the complaints of the populace relate to ‘future’ issues.  There has long been a ‘publicized’ effort of the HK govt to make housing available to the many that need it.  This has been a political balloon; now the government has been seen to have missed for so many years its targeted objectives for providing low-cost housing. One of these is the ‘Home-Ownership’ scheme which allows low-income families discount purchase of flats. This has now been resurrected with much fanfare.  Also the land-developing tycoons have been responding by now offering to build low-income housing on land that they have been holding for some time.   Yet the government needs to show some more areas in which they are planning to ease the situation that has kept the protests alive.   Part of this relates to how well the government can carefully maneuver its efforts through the Legislative Council (Legco) without creating further antagonisms.  However, since the Legco has resumed its meetings, little has been accomplished.

Here arises another big worry for the CE. Up until now the ’pro-establishment’ (pro-Beijing) parties have held a majority of seats in the Legco.  Since the dramatic defeat of so many from these parties in the District Council elections, these parties have not been as compliant as before.   It is obvious the mood of the public, and most significantly these parties are taking on more balanced views.  The real test will be the forthcoming Legco election and whether the pro-democracy groups can for the first time achieve a majority. This is the very real and current worry for both the CE and for Beijing, as the weekend protests continue.

Did you miss any of Bill’s reports? Find them below.

Hong Kong Heat, Parts 1 and 2
Hong Kong Heat, Part 3
Hong Kong Heat, Part 4
Hong Kong Heat, Part 5
Hong Kong Heat, Part 6
Letters From a Chaotic Hot Spot (Part 7)

Bill welcomes your comments. Please add them below. Thanks.

1 comment to Hong Kong Heat, Part 8

  • William Stork

    I would also like to call your attention to the wonderful New Yorker article in the 19 December issue by Jiayang Fan, “The Act of Protest: Struggling against Beijing, Hong Kong tries to define itself”