21 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (left) seeks to improve the notification mechanism for locals arrested on the mainland, following revelations by bookseller Lam Wing-kee about his detention. Photos: DW, VOA
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (left) seeks to improve the notification mechanism for locals arrested on the mainland, following revelations by bookseller Lam Wing-kee about his detention. Photos: DW, VOA

Booksellers and the CE race: a very eventful summer for HK

Hong Kong is now entering a very eventful season.

The booksellers’ saga is nowhere near a calming end, and already, the race for the city’s top post is on.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has volunteered to lobby Beijing to improve the notification mechanism for Hongkongers arrested on the mainland, while Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has started talking about democratic reforms again.

The ABC campaign and who will win the top post 

Hong Kong Television Network chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay is leading the Anyone But CY bandwagon, which is the one and only theme of his high-profile bid for a Hong Kong Island seat in the Legislative Council.

While Wong is seeking to ouster Leung, his platform is conservative in other issues, and this is likely to resonate well with his target voters: executives, professionals and other members of the middle class, who form the base of the geographical constituency.

Wong can expect a triumphant ride into the legislative body this September.

There’s perhaps no agenda other than toppling Leung that can garner a high voter turnout from a wide spectrum.

Indeed, some observers are likening the coming Legco vote to a referendum on Leung’s second term.

The Leung camp isn’t taking this sitting down.

His lackeys are sending out word that if the pro-establishment bloc is trounced in the September election, Beijing will need a steadfast leader to wrestle control and keep everything under check, and no one can do the job better than Leung.

What an absurd logic. But should that really be Beijing’s thinking, then nothing could be more heartening to the nativists and separatists.

Just imagine the entire government apparatus upended by a renewed feud between the legislature and the Leung administration.

Still, Beijing may not be that dumb. Young activists now mockingly call Leung “the father of Hong Kong independence”, and, as Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has hinted, top cadres in Zhongnanhai may have, deftly, given their nod to the “ABC” campaign.

The Legco chief told media the 2017 chief executive election will no longer be a token race among a hand-picked winner and some also-rans.

Beijing can just sit idly by and let Leung’s foes drag him down, and by doing so win the praise of the public for keeping its hands off Hong Kong affairs.

But once Leung is ditched, what are the odds of winning for the other chief executive hopefuls? 

Lam and financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah are both acceptable to Beijing.

But as the Legco chief said, the government may be paralyzed when both resign from their current posts to focus on the election campaign.

John Tsang’s popularity notwithstanding, his many personal links to the United States – his family has long immigrated to the US and he didn’t return to Hong Kong until he was 31 – may put him in an unflattering light in Beijing’s eyes.

He may be asked to remain in the de facto “caretaker government” so that Lam can run.

Lam’s drawback is not her British background (she started her career in the British colonial government and her husband and son now live in the UK); Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was given the top job despite his strong ties with the UK.

What may hold her back is her rather mediocre image among the city’s business elites, democrats and youngsters.

But who can butter his bread on both sides, the pro-Beijing camp and the pan-dems? Isn’t that the very expertise of Jasper Tsang himself?

“Let’s wait and see.” That’s his reply when asked if he will run.

Improving notification mechanism irrelevant 

“Never think that you can get away by fleeing to Hong Kong … The mainland authorities and the Hong Kong police will step up cooperation.”

That’s a callous message sent out by People’s Daily to Causeway Bay Bookstore founder Lam Wing-kee, after the meeting between Hong Kong officials and their mainland counterparts on the notification mechanism this week.

Will the Hong Kong police grab Lam and hand him over to the mainland authorities?

Only local laws are enforced in Hong Kong and apart from those listed in Annex 3 of the Basic Law, mainland laws are not effective here, said security minister Lai Tung-kwok.

He stressed that there is no extradition arrangement between the two jurisdictions, nor did mainland authorities make any request for law enforcement assistance regarding Lam.

But that’s hardly the crux of the issue.

Not a single word about abduction or law enforcement by mainland agents in Hong Kong was mentioned in the talks.

The fact is that when the mainland feels the need, it’s a breeze for it to make anyone in Hong Kong cross the border “by his own means” to “assist in an investigation”.

And the notification mechanism is irrelevant here.

Any “improvement” will only lead to more purported TV confessions and Hongkongers will only know, probably earlier than in the past, that Big Brother is watching and the long arm of Beijing can snatch anyone at anytime.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 7.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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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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