Date
29 March 2017
Workers apply adhesive to the pavement in Wan Chai near Zhang Dejiang's hotel to prevent protesters from pulling up tiles and hurling them, as they did during  the protests in Mong Kok in February. Photos: AFP, Facebook
Workers apply adhesive to the pavement in Wan Chai near Zhang Dejiang's hotel to prevent protesters from pulling up tiles and hurling them, as they did during the protests in Mong Kok in February. Photos: AFP, Facebook

Is Zhang here merely for ‘Belt and Road’ platitudes?

Beijing’s footmen in Hong Kong have been putting out the word that the visit by China’s top legislator, Zhang Dejiang (張德江), starting Tuesday, has nothing to do with next year’s election for chief executive or the recent spike in pro-separatism sentiment.

They say merely a small band of radicals lives with the illusion of independence for Hong Kong, so any comment on the issue from Zhang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, would only lend them the spotlight.

Then, what on earth is Zhang doing here?

To sell President Xi Jinping (習近平)’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, as the Hong Kong government said in a press release?

Well, that’s just a lame joke.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying lost no time parroting Beijing’s line in this year’s Policy Address — “One Belt, One Road” got 48 mentions. That was seen as nothing other than a clumsy kowtow to the north.

One fact to note is that Zhang, who will deliver a keynote speech at a Belt and Road forum Wednesday, has a degree in economics from Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.

And, Zhang, the third-ranked member of the Communist Party’s Politburo, also wears two other hats: director of the central coordination group for Hong Kong and Macau affairs and deputy chairman of the central commission on national security.

So, we know that, even if we won’t hear any public comments from him about Hong Kong’s political situation, he will, behind closed doors, give pointers to his yesmen on the 2017 election and crushing the city’s separatist movement.

He would be negligent in performing his duty if he didn’t touch on these issues.

Leung’s chances of securing a second term, as I see it, range from slim to almost none, but that doesn’t mean Zhang will ditch him any time soon.

Some of Leung’s core henchmen and tycoon allies are from Shanghai, where former president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin (江澤民) rose from scratch, and Zhang is considered one of Jiang’s favorite protégés.

Beijing may find it harder to tackle the issue of Hong Kong independence.

These thoughts must not be allowed to proliferate further, yet Beijing can’t clone its big-stick approach to Xinjiang and Tibet.

It is fettered by the fact that promoting the city’s independence is not a criminal offense under its existing legal regime.

But Zhang may still declare in Hong Kong that anyone who aims for the city’s top job must convince the mainland masters that he or she can quell Hongkongers’ growing estrangement from China, both in words and deeds, and the result must be seen and felt.

So prepare yourself for an iron fist in the days to come when Leung, or whoever his replacement is, will step up the clampdown on anti-mainland sentiment.

It may be reminiscent of how the Singapore authorities have stifled the city state’s opposition over the past decades.

Young nativists and separatists should be on the alert.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 16.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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 FL

Those who will be attending the Hong Kong government’s reception to welcome Zhang must fill out a form providing detailed personal information, almost like applying for a passport. Photo: Facebook


Large barriers are seen outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai, where Zhang will be staying during his visit to Hong Kong. Photo: Internet


Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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