Carrie Lam is finished but her bosses won’t let her go

June 14, 2019 18:28
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam has lost much of her political capital by continuing to push for a new extradition law despite widespread public opposition, observers say. Photo: Reuters

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is done, kaput, finished and it’s possible to pinpoint the day when this happened – 9th June 2019, the day she showed utter contempt for the people she is supposed to lead.

Despite her self-pitying and tearful apologia broadcast, of course, by CCTVB, she is on her own, friendless, despised and shorn of all authority on every front.

After over a million people took to the streets in an unprecedented demonstration against new extradition legislation, Mrs. Lam simply said she would not listen to critics.

She then followed up on this tone deaf response by saying that she could however pay attention to her supporters' ideas for amending the bill. The scintilla of hope that the CE might have been able to gain credibility by at least making an appearance of listening to the people died alongside any hope of reviving her fortunes.

But then there was more. She evidently decided that her contempt for Hongkongers had been insufficiently expressed, so proceeded to castigate opponents of the bill as behaving like naughty children who should not be indulged by their parents.

Yet, whatever Lam says, at least for now, she will remain in office because her bosses in the North cannot afford to lose four out of four Chief Executives after they spectacularly failed in office. So, she still has the nominal support of the Chinese Communist Party but its leaders treat her with the exquisite contempt that comes naturally to a dictatorship.

As that wonderful New Zealand expression puts it, ‘the hamster’s left the cage but the wheel is still spinning’. Therefore Lam will remain Chief Executive, but in name only, reduced to such a level of utter powerlessness that the grey men in the Liaison Office no longer bother to disguise their flouting of the understanding that Beijing will not involve itself in local affairs.

Legislators are given orders from the Beijing representative office, senior civil servants receive direct ‘guidance’ from their real bosses and even when it comes to elections for local organizations, not just the legislature but also those of bodies such as the Law Society and the Heung Yee Kuk, the Liaison Office busies itself drawing up lists of ‘approved’ candidates.

The alleged Chief Executive sits in her office, according to her, for hours on end, and goes through the motions but she is no longer in control. Anything that matters is now directly referred to the Liaison Office.

There is endless speculation over whether she introduced the extradition legislation on her own initiative or under direct orders from Beijing. The balance of probability is that it was indeed her idea, part of her intense shoe-shining effort to placate her masters, who remain irritated that she has failed to bring in new sedition laws.

This explanation has credibility because at first there was no flow of ‘guidance’ from Western over handling this matter. However once the new law had been launched the phone lines from the Liaison Office started to buzz as Beijing gave its hearty nod of approval.

With the bosses in the North making it clear that they had taken ownership, legislators who had been thinking of opposing the law, in the belief that it was simply a proposal from Lam herself, quickly reversed course.

Not only did the Liaison Office effectively take over handling the matter, they also dictated the narrative of explaining the bill.

Lam and her hapless ministers had been thrashing around trying to justify the urgency for this legislation with the manifestly false excuse that they needed to resolve an outstanding murder case in Taiwan involving a Hong Kong suspect. Then they tried saying that this was little more than a communication issue because protestors were too dumb to understand the bill.

These excuses have now been dumped on orders from Beijing which simply wants its toadies in Hong Kong to echo the kind of things they always say when faced with opposition.

Thus they are now talking darkly about foreign meddling and stressing that any challenge is in fact a threat to stability etc. etc.

The way this works on the Mainland is that when explanations of this kind fail the authorities resort to brute force to crack down on dissent. Tragically this is what we are now seeing in Hong Kong.

Fortunately the local crackdown has not reached anything like the levels of 1989 Tiananmen massacre, but a reminder of how force works was delivered in the streets around Admiralty on June 12. Fortunately no one was actually killed but the mobilization of the riot police to behave as though they were facing a full-scale insurrection is a chilling marker for the future.

It cannot be denied that brute force works; streets can be cleared, protestors rounded up and sent to jail and then there are the beatings and all the rest of it which send an unmistakable message.
That message is reinforced by a battery of other measures being rolled out by the week.

Thus the right to stand for election is challenged, freedom of expression is challenged with the banning of a political party, and the expulsion and denial of entry to foreign journalists is brought into play.

And now the last pillar around which so much depends, the rule of law, is severely threatened by a plan to allow the Mainland’s notoriously party-controlled judiciary to get its hands on Hong Kong residents.

Under these circumstances you might imagine that the people of Hong Kong would throw up their hands in despair but they do not, they still take to the streets in protest. As one set of leaders are locked up, others step forward to take their place. And while the bulk of the mainstream media is brought under control, the ever inventive Hong Kong people take to creating a new online media that keeps the information flow intact.

Sitting in a lonely office, going through the motions is a forlorn Carrie Lam. She is now too scared to venture outside or meet the people unless they have been carefully screened beforehand. She is unable to move without a nod from the Liaison Office and largely shunned by even so-called loyalists whose loyalty is to a far more terrifying master. No wonder she’s blubbing.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.