22 April 2019
Many Hong Kong people now say their biggest worry in relation to the city’s future is erosion of the city’s autonomy and the 'two systems' principle. Photo: Reuters
Many Hong Kong people now say their biggest worry in relation to the city’s future is erosion of the city’s autonomy and the 'two systems' principle. Photo: Reuters

Erosion of ‘two systems’ bigger worry than wasteful projects

According to the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s recent Policy Address only grossed 48.5 marks in satisfaction rating, down nearly 14 points compared to the rating that she received for her maiden annual speech last year.

The reason why Lam’s latest Policy Address was so poorly received was perhaps because her ambitious and costly “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” proposal has scared quite a lot of people.

Also, the transport chaos the day after a super typhoon hit the city last month and the controversy related to the non-renewal of work visa for Financial Times journalist and Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) office-bearer Victor Mallet may have created a negative impression among the public, and hence the low satisfaction rating for Lam’s speech.

Although the administration has repeatedly stressed that the power to approve or reject visa applications rests with the Immigration Department, it is inevitable that members of the public would associate the Mallet visa denial with the FCC’s recent move to invite Andy Chan Ho-tin, convenor of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), to speak at a luncheon event.

Given the shocking government decision, which quickly sparked a diplomatic spat between London and Beijing, it is hard to believe that Hong Kong authorities would have acted entirely on their own over the matter, as they claimed, without taking instructions from Beijing.

As academic Ivan Choy Chi-keung pointed out in a newspaper article, Mallet’s visa extension denial may have further international ramifications. The incident could turn out to be a “tipping point” over which public opinion in the West about Hong Kong may start to reverse.

I believe Choy’s view is hardly an exaggeration.

During the early years after the handover in 1997, the prevailing view among the Western media was that the “one country, two systems” principle seemed to be working properly and it was pretty much business as usual in Hong Kong.

However, in recent years, such optimistic view has quickly given way to growing concerns about the increasingly oppressive political environment in the city, particularly in the wake of the Occupy movement.

Such concern among the Western media has only grown as senior government officials have in the recent past made provocative remarks — like, for example, that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration has already completed its historical mission — and authorities rushed to disqualify a bunch of pro-democracy lawmakers one after another.

The visa denial for Mallet is just the latest troubling sign.

As a matter of fact, the people of Hong Kong are now increasingly fretting over threats to the rule of law and the ‘two systems‘, concerned more about those issues than the worries about government funds being wasted on “white elephant” infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, the administration’s latest decision to ban ousted pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Siu-lai from running in the upcoming Legislative Council by-election has only heightened the concerns about the “two systems” getting chipped away.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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