Over the past one month, Hong Kong has witnessed one of its most serious ever political crises in more than 20 years.
The saga goes back to the beginning of this year when the government said it aims to plug legal loopholes in the city’s extradition laws to prevent suspects in serious criminal cases abroad from taking refuge in Hong Kong.
The matter needs to be addressed in light of the problems that came to the fore due to a Taiwan murder case that involved a Hong Kong man, the government said as it sought to justify its move.
The explanation, however, didn’t find many takers within society, with people expressing worries that an amended law could put Hong Kong people at the risk of extraditions to mainland China.
The government was accused of pushing as “evil law” that was tailor-made for the mainland.
Amid the concerns, a pushback against the legislative proposal snowballed over the months, culminating in large-scale street demonstrations and clashes.
Following the crisis, policy-making and governance seem to have ground to a halt in the city, and some rowdy protesters are now diverting their anger toward frontline police officers.
From the operations perspective, the Carrie Lam administrations has become hobbled, and it appears that it can no longer deliver effective governance.
Hong Kong has never witnessed such a situation since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Is the current mayhem going to continue? If so, for how much longer? And what are the implications of the crisis for the morale of the top officials in the government?
These are some questions that are passing through the minds of observers now.
As Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor declared on July 9 that “the bill is dead”, it is tantamount to accepting “total failure” of the legislative push. And it also signals the complete collapse of the authority of the government.
Given the current situation, the administration is likely to face a very tough time on any major policy initiative in the coming days.
Amid the highly volatile political climate, I believe Lam and her governing team will have to ditch their haughtiness, adjust their mindset, and open up dialogue with the various stakeholders, particularly the young people who had played a key role in the anti-extradition bill movement.
Apart from dialogue, the chief executive must take solid actions to address some of the protesters’ demands. Otherwise, Lam and the city as a whole will continue to bleed from the wound.
Recently, Andrew Li Kwok-nang, former Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal, who has rarely commented on political issues in public over the years, called upon the government to set up a commission of inquiry led by a judge in order to ascertain the whole truth about the recent events.
In my opinion, the chief executive should consider having Li as chair of an inquiry commission.
Li’s credibility is beyond dispute in the public eye. Also, I believe he would be willing to take up the responsibility of heading the inquiry panel.
Lam has said on different occasions that the extradition bill is “suspended”, and later also proclaimed that the plan is “dead”.
No matter how she puts it, whether it is “suspended” or “dead”, we know perfectly well that the Legislative Council cannot restart the legislative process over the bill during its remaining term.
Still, in order to put an end to the controversies once and for all, I believe the government should directly address the public’s demand by officially announcing the “withdrawal” of the bill.
Lastly, I feel compelled to stress here that the key to defusing the ongoing crisis is rational and sincere communication.
I am not asking the government to make concessions to the small bunch of violent protesters who trampled on the city’s core values and spirit of rule of law by going on a rampage within the Legco complex on July 1.
Instead, I am strongly urging the authorities to bring those people to justice as soon as possible.
But more than that, what I am truly seeking is that the chief executive, the government and the people of Hong Kong should all come to terms with what happened recently and move on, putting the past behind them.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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