When Donald Tsang made a distinction between people by political affiliation, he planted the seeds of disaffection as we know it today.
Leung Chun-ying exacerbated it when he treated pan-democrats as enemies, although he has not publicly spoken out against his critics.
Now we know how hard it is to mend fences.
The pro-establishment camp has been forced to make a U-turn after top cadres in Beijing toned down their criticism of Hong Kong.
The government has signaled its willingness to talk to pan-democrats but that won’t help when public trust in this administration has vanished, unless a new one is installed.
Yet, Leung has been blogging about his accomplishments — more land and home supply, lower rental and home prices and a 40 percent increase in welfare spending.
There’s nothing to brag about when you have ample government revenue and a highly efficient civil service.
But Leung always feels good about himself. Maybe he was born that way.
Beijing’s change of heart and Leung’s many “breakthroughs” are too little too late for ordinary Hongkongers.
They remember how Beijing praised and backed the highly unpopular Leung and how it dismissed their aspirations for genuine universal suffrage.
At the same time, last month’s Legislative Council by-election showed that Beijing loyalists have been losing broad support compared with pan-democrats whose base has proven resilient.
Now there’s a growing demand from the younger generation for self-determination.
Hong Kong independence can never happen even if the Communist Party is overthrown but related issues will continue to be hotly debated.
These young people are naive to want a state of their own but they are also courageous by challenging Beijing at whatever cost.
Meanwhile, Leung is reviewing police readiness, equipment and weapons.
Two new police tactical units comprising 340 paramilitary officers have been created to deal with any rioting. Two new water cannons worth HK$20 million (US$2.58 million) are at their disposal.
But the police must know that under no circumstances will strong-arm bullying be justified. Beijing might not approve of it, so any such attempt will be quickly disowned by this government.
That means the new equipment and personnel reinforcement can only be a deterrent.
When students were tear-gassed at the start of the democracy protests in 2014, Beijing stayed silent. Neither Leung nor Chief Secretary Carrie Lam admitted having had anything to do with the suppression.
Beijing will have to get its Hong Kong proxies to find someone — or something — to blame if violence breaks out this time.
The police are a convenient scapegoat.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 22.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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