Many things are predictable about Hong Kong politics but the announcement of the latest recruit to the cause of localism was most decidedly not one of them.
Last Tuesday the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made the astonishing announcement declaring that protecting local interests was right there at the top of his agenda. For this reason, he concluded there was no need for young people or anyone else for that matter to look further than the CE’s office should they wish to pursue local interests.
Although this statement was made on April 5 not on April 1, better known as April Fools Day, the lingering suspicion remained that the Chief Executive might have suddenly developed a sense of humor.
He has certainly shown no sign of this during his painful tenure in office. On the contrary, he has developed an almost uncanny ability to look severe and far from happy, a pose occasionally broken when he attends one of many flag-waving events where he dons a kind of rictus grin and gives every impression of someone exercising extreme self-control over a need to visit the sanitary facilities.
However, careful examination of what he actually said reveals that this suspected outbreak of irony might not be justified.
To support his claim of promoting local interests CY could only cite measures taken to “punish” ordinary citizens from the mainland.
He seems proud, for example, of the largely pointless but unpleasant attack on mainland babies emanating from the scheme to limit mainlander’s purchases of baby powder.
Then there’s the abolition of the Shenzhen residents unlimited travel to Hong Kong scheme that has been modified to become a once-per-week permit, the impact of which is most heavily felt by families who live on both sides of the border.
Finally Mr. Leung appears not to have heard about what’s going in the property market because he still seems to think it was a great idea to modify stamp duty rules as a way of discouraging mainland investors.
Not only is this now irrelevant but it did little to discourage the flow of hot money into the local property market because this flow is very much related to other considerations.
What CY could not give as an example of his commitment to local people was a single example of how he stood up to demands from the central government or its many acolytes who are constantly pushing for Hong Kong to subjugate itself to the mainland way of doing things.
The only time there has been any pushback has been under pressure from Hongkongers. This was seen when the government had to retreat over mainland demands to step up patriotic education in schools.
More recently when the whole city was up in arms over the book sellers’ disappearance, Mr. Leung’s first response was to remain silent, followed by a timid statement that the matter was being looked into and, as the furor mounted, but only after it got loud enough to become audible in the CE’s office, did we hear anything resembling a statement of concern.
Now that the furor has abated all the vague promises of investigation, talking to the authorities across the border etc. etc. have vanished into thin air.
The plain facts of the matter are that CY Leung sees putting Hong Kong people first as a careful balancing act, with a first priority of ensuring that his personal position does not come under criticism from Beijing.
Once this priority has been established CY is open to looking for ways to pander to the worst kind of anti-mainlander sentiment, which inevitably means punishing the powerless, something that will be familiar to his bosses in Beijing.
Meanwhile, it is impossible to forget that CY Leung is the man who could not even bring himself to support the local football team when it found itself up against China’s national team.
You don’t need to be a football fan to understand what’s going on here.
Nor do you need to be blind to note that CY spends more time on the mainland than his predecessors.
But then again maybe it’s only natural to want to be in places where you are least likely to be subject to public expressions of hatred.
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