19 October 2018
Was Leung Chun-ying merely paying lip service when he said he would try to persuade China to rethink its visa policy for travel to Hong Kong?Photo:Reuters
Was Leung Chun-ying merely paying lip service when he said he would try to persuade China to rethink its visa policy for travel to Hong Kong?Photo:Reuters

Why Leung changed his mind about Chinese influx

It has been a game of back-and-forth for two pro-Beijing figures these past days — but mostly a lot of going back.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying walked back a plan to persuade Chinese authorities to rethink the individual visa scheme for travel to Hong Kong, just days after announcing it in a high-profile media opportunity.

His reason: it’s not easy.

Earlier, National People’s Congress deputy Stanley Ng distanced himself from his own efforts to introduce China’s draconian state security law in Hong Kong.

His reason: he meant no such thing, or something to that effect.

These incidents show the kind of thinking that is making Hong Kong people ever more distrustful of anyone that purports to represent their interests.

Why say these things in the first place?

Let’s set aside Ng for a moment and focus on Leung because as Hong Kong leader, he has a greater responsibility for his words and actions.

Leung appeared to appease Hong Kong people when he announced last week that he will try to get China to change its policy on individual visits to Hong Kong.

The announcement meant that finally, the government is doing something about the influx of Chinese parallel traders that have been blamed for causing shortages of basic supplies and driving up retail prices.

That’s not to mention complaints about some unruly visitors trashing our streets, public toilets, parks and public transport.

Interestingly, Leung made the announcement after violent incidents in a border district between protesters demonstrating against Chinese parallel traders and small shop owners — and their supporters — who have been supplying them.

Was Leung merely paying lip service to defuse the situation?

Granted he meant what he said, did he not realize it’s no easy task?

In recent days, Hong Kong has come under withering criticism from Chinese state media for mounting calls to curb arrivals from the mainland.

It came with the usual warning that any such move will harm Hong Kong’s tourism and retail industry and ultimately its economy.

It’s easier to imagine Leung caving to such pressure than throwing up his hands because the job is not easy to do. 

But having concluded that, could he not have thought of anything to say to his bosses in Beijing that might at least help mitigate the problem?

Leung is a greater disappointment than Ng, whose sin was in needlessly raising renewed concern in Hong Kong over the mothballed national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law (remember the one that authorizes police searches and arrests on the pretext of subversion?).

In January, Ng said Hong Kong should adopt China’s state security law, pending approval of its own national security legislation under Article 23.

He set the plan in motion by getting Beijing loyalists to back his proposal, so it could be discussed in the ongoing sessions of the the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

He blew hot and cold until finally, he fell silent about the whole idea.  

It took NPC deputy Rita Fan to give us a hint of what happened.

Fan explained that the NPC does not think the proposal is appropriate at this time and that Hong Kong should enact its own security legislation.

The clarification meant Ng’s efforts have been rebuffed by Beijing and his sudden silence could only have been prompted by a senior official telling him to stop talking.

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EJ Insight writer

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