28 October 2016
As Zhang Dejiang arrived in Hong Kong (inset),
a banner saying "End the Communist Party's dictatorship" hangs at a construction site next to his motorcade's route to town. Photos: Facebook/Avery Ng, Reuters
As Zhang Dejiang arrived in Hong Kong (inset), a banner saying "End the Communist Party's dictatorship" hangs at a construction site next to his motorcade's route to town. Photos: Facebook/Avery Ng, Reuters

Why Zhang’s wish to see, listen and talk to HKers became a joke

National People’s Congress Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang, China’s No. 3 leader, after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, is visiting Hong Kong for three days this week.

Zhang said on his arrival Tuesday that he wants to see, listen and talk to the people of Hong Kong.

He may be disappointed.

The city’s police have taken extraordinary steps to prevent him from interacting with Hongkongers, much less hearing their opinions.

Thousands of police officers and tens of thousands of plastic water-filled barriers have been deployed to keep hoi polloi a good distance from the state leader.

Zhang’s visit may not help him to know what Hongkongers think, but he will have first-hand experience of how hard the city’s police are trying to protect him from any incidents that could embarrass the Communist Party and the Hong Kong government.

Many internet users are saying the security measures are not only over the top but unnecessary.

Some say what police merely need to do is surround Zhang with four tall water-filled barriers wherever he goes, and then he will be safe and won’t be able to see any protest that could embarrass him or the Communist Party.

When Zhang was being welcomed by the chief executive, chief secretary, financial secretary and justice secretary at the airport Tuesday, he might not have been aware that journalists covering his arrival were not allowed to bring umbrellas into the airport, ostensibly for reasons of aviation safety.

That wouldn’t be a plausible reason, however, for preventing some journalists from bringing yellow towels with them, while towels in other colors were allowed.

Yellow umbrellas were, of course, a symbol of the 79-day Occupy movement, or “Umbrella Revolution”, in late 2014.

The ridiculous security measures taken by police are reminiscent of the overkill the force engaged in when confronting protesters during that campaign.

Police also set up a security checkpoint at the peak of Lion Rock in Kowloon on Monday night.

They initially refused to comment on their presence there but later confirmed that it is to prevent anyone from trying to hang a pro-democracy banner from Lion Rock, which was one of the more eye-catching gestures during the Occupy protests.

However, Hongkongers will not be prevented from expressing their desire for “genuine universal suffrage”, in which they can elect their chief executive without Beijing screening the candidates through its local proxies.

Just a few hours before Zhang’s arrival Tuesday, the radical League of Social Democrats (LSD) unfurled a large yellow banner, like the one from 2014, saying “I want genuine universal suffrage”.

But it was hung from Beacon Hill, bypassing the police security checkpoint at Lion Rock, two kilometers away.

Despite the heavy-handed police presence around the city, the force’s security planning apparently still has room for improvement.

While the banner was removed by firefighters before Zhang even had a chance to see it, the LSD went further, hanging two banners along North Lantau Highway, the only road connecting the airport to the city.

LSD activists hung a black banner saying “End the Communist Party’s dictatorship” at a construction site next to the highway, in the hope that Zhang might see it when his car passed by.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, chairman of the new political party Demosistō, was among party members subdued by police when they staged a protest in Wan Chai as Zhang’s motorcade passed by on its way to his hotel next to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The sign Law and the others was holding up said: “We don’t want One Belt, One Road”.

When Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessors as president, visited Hong Kong, the security measures did not go as far in disrupting the traffic and daily life of the city’s residents.

Zhang is not China’s top leader, but police have deployed more than 5,000 officers during his visit, the official reason being to prevent any terrorist incidents.

This could be a misguided attempt by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to further widen the gap between Beijing and the people of Hong Kong by increasing the tension on both sides, with the aim of giving the country’s top leaders the impression that he represents a safe pair of hands and deserves a second term.

Zhang told journalists on his arrival that he will listen to the opinions of the people of Hong Kong about what is needed for the development of the city.

If Zhang truly wants to get a feel for Hong Kong’s real situation, he should go straight to the protesters and listen to their demands, instead of staying behind the water-filled barriers kindly provided by the police.

However, based on his first day in Hong Kong, Zhang may be forgiven for the perception that Hong Kong is a city filled with police, where protesters are conspicuous by their absence.

The government’s absurd security arrangements make a joke of the purposes Zhang stated for his visit and further reinforce the image of Hong Kong as a city whose leaders have abandoned the interests of its residents in favor of kowtowing to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

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EJ Insight writer

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