21 October 2016
Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers have come under fire for reporting directly to the Beijing Liaison Office. Photos: HKEJ
Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers have come under fire for reporting directly to the Beijing Liaison Office. Photos: HKEJ

Why Beijing might decide to intervene more openly after debacle

Hong Kong people are coming to grips with Thursday’s election bill debacle and what its aftermath means in a larger sense.

They know now what happened — the disastrous attempt by pro-establishment legislators to delay the vote by walking off the chamber, the wait for the powerful village elder Lau Wong-fat and the crushing defeat of the Beijing-backed proposal.

They’re still trying to figure out why some of its loyalists went to the Beijing Liaison Office immediately after the vote. 

The 33 lawmakers who missed the voting because of the walkout have apologized in media appearances and in newspaper announcements.

But in the past several days, more of them have reported to the liaison office including Ng Leung-sing and Abraham Shek Lai-him, according to reports.

It’s said they were summoned to explain the fiasco. It’s also possible they decided to personally apologize to the mainland’s top official in Hong Kong, hoping a deep, regretful bow will somehow appease senior leaders in Beijing.

In any case, their actions show where their first loyalty lies. And it appears it’s not to their constituents, let alone Hong Kong.

Liberal Party lawmaker James Tien, who helped torpedo his colleagues’ attempt to deny the council a quorum, says his party serves Hong Kong, not Beijing.

Also, the Liberal Party will work with pan-democrats and support their ideas “if these are good”. Tien says his party maintains a “reasonable” relationship with pan-democrats.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong says Beijing, the Hong Kong government and the two political camps are responsible for the defeat of the bill to varying degrees.

But in the aftermath of the fiasco, the pro-establishment camp, more than the pan-democrats, has to work harder to engage the public about the way forward, he says.

It’s a challenge Beijing loyalists must be contemplating, alongside questions about their usefulness as a political lever for the Communist Party.

While recriminations continue, many of them are distancing themselves from Jeffrey Lam and Ip Kwok-him, the ringleaders of the walkout.

There’s no evidence Lau is hurting from the political fallout but Hong Kong’s longest serving lawmaker perhaps couldn’t care less — he has expressed his wish to retire.

No doubt a lot of planning went into a concerted effort by the Hong Kong government and the central authorities to orchestrate a win for the electoral reform package.

But even with Beijing’s direction, pro-establishment forces appeared to have no common interests.

Whether or not they will try to regroup remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Beijing could lose confidence in its political proxies and decide to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs more openly.

Not that it will shrink from ever doing so.

Leung Chun-ying’s government, not pro-Beijing legislators, has been Beijing’s most important partner in pushing its political agenda in Hong Kong.

And Leung, perhaps more than any politician, has helped create uncertainty over “one country, two systems” by allowing Beijing to operate behind the scenes.

While this form of remote-control governance exists, Hong Kong people will continue to be fearful of Beijing’s unfinished business.

This includes the much dreaded national security law and a proposed national education curriculum to teach patriotism and party discipline to young children.

Increasingly, the Hong Kong government will beat a path to the liaison office for its marching orders.

And where it goes, so goes “one country, two systems”, assuming it still exists.

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EJ Insight writer

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