It would probably take just a few phone calls from Beijing to bring at least half of Hong Kong lawmakers into line on any issue.
So, the Communist Party should have no difficulty forcing through Article 23 legislation.
Why hasn’t it?
It could be that Beijing needs time to prepare for any public backlash and tighten its grip on the civil service and the local media.
In fact, officials have been steadily and quietly doing the spadework until they got sidetracked by the rise of the pro-independence movement which caught them completely off guard.
Their immediate response, which showed just how panicked they were, was to bar pro-independence candidates from the Legislative Council elections in September.
Hence, we have the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) requiring candidates to sign a declaration pledging allegiance to the Basic Law.
It took only a few months for the pro-independence discourse to become a mainstream topic from being a taboo subject.
A recent survey shows two in five young people are in favor of Hong Kong seceding from China.
Beijing has no choice but to resort to extreme measures by depriving separatist candidates of their right to stand for election using rough and reckless tactics.
These could backfire.
Throughout history, revolutions have followed a certain pattern: action escalates between the oppressor and the oppressed, turning into sporadic clashes and finally widespread, bloody violence.
Hong Kong is increasingly going down that path.
A showdown between Beijing and Hong Kong, likely to be longer and more violent than the 2014 street protests, is probably already in the making.
The reason Leung Chun-ying has had the upper hand over pan-democrats in the past four years is that he has been dealing with self-serving politicians.
For example, if pan-democrats had stayed united and had threatened to boycott the Legco election from the beginning, the EAC’s plot to weed out pro-independence candidates might not have pushed forward so easily.
What is truly alarming about the declaration of allegiance is that it sets a very dangerous precedent.
If the EAC gets its way, it is possible it will go on to require candidates to sign the same declaration in the next District Council elections.
Similarly, the University Grants Committee could ban all studies or polls by universities on the independence issue by invoking the Basic Law.
Or the government could ban newspaper articles that mention Hong Kong independence by the same token.
I must warn the EAC that its mission is far from accomplished. It is way too early to toast their success with champagne.
It is because the legal grounds they cited for asking candidates to sign the declaration are so flimsy this poorly conceived idea will almost certainly trigger lawsuits and judicial reviews.
Whether allowing returning officers (civil servants who oversee the election process) to enforce the Basic Law is constitutional is itself a big question mark.
And by doing so, the EAC is simply opening itself up to legal challenges.
Here is my tiny bit of advice for Leung Chun-ying and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen — your move on pro-independence candidates might have stalled them for now but your unconstitutional action will only provoke an even more ferocious public backlash in the long run.
A pro-independence movement outside the legislature may prove even more difficult to contain.
Finally, here is my question for EAC chairman Fung Wah — how could you still have the nerve to stay on your job?
What you have done has made the EAC — and Hong Kong as a whole — the laughing stock of the world.
You should resign immediately if you have the least sense of decency.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 2
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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