What we need is concrete solutions, not daily pressers

August 08, 2019 19:04
Top government officials speak at an inter-departmental press conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing social disturbances in the city. Photo: CNSA

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) of the State Council once again held a press briefing on Tuesday to present its views on the state of affairs in Hong Kong.

Compared to the comments made in an earlier presser last week, HKMAO spokesperson Yang Guang went into a lot more detail this time, including on the question of whether the central government might seek to deploy the military to restore order in Hong Kong.

Any decision on deployment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong for duties, Yang said, would be made in accordance with the Basic Law and the Garrison Law.

Under provisions of those laws, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee can declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong if there is turmoil with the territory that endangers national
unity or security and is deemed beyond the capability of the Hong Kong government to control. 

In other words, the central government can send troops to suppress riots even without the official request of Hong Kong's chief executive.

A government source has said that judging from the choice of words of Yang, it appears Beijing has toughened its stance on Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, another government figure has suggested otherwise, arguing that the central authorities haven’t changed their take on the anti-extradition bill movement.

The person pointed out that during the press conference, the HKMAO only took aim at the acts of violence by a handful of radical protesters, and did not widen the scope of its onslaught.

On Wednesday, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the HKMAO, along with Wang Zhimin, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, held a seminar in Shenzhen in the presence of pro-establishment lawmakers and Hong Kong delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and local deputies of the National People’s Congress.

At the forum, Zhang remarked that Hong Kong is facing its "most severe crisis" since the 1997 handover, and that the central government is extremely concerned about the ongoing extradition bill saga and escalating violence in the city.

The fact that the central authorities are weighing in on the political turmoil in Hong Kong on an increasingly frequent basis in recent weeks indicates that Beijing is keeping a close eye on the developments in the territory, and trying to keep things under control by pulling the strings behind the scene.

As far as the Hong Kong government is concerned, it has held a series of news conferences on the anti-extradition bill protests over the last couple of days, including two inter-departmental pressers.

Moreover, starting from Monday, the police have also begun holding press briefings on a daily basis to release the latest information about the law enforcement, take questions from journalists and refute any doubts in an apparent effort to try and fight a long-term public opinion war.

This same approach was adopted by the police during the Occupy movement back in 2014.

As to why the administration didn’t hold regular press conferences until after two months into the anti-extradition bill saga, a government figure has explained that as the city-wide protests are getting increasingly frequent and violent in recent days, authorities have only now found it necessary to formulate a new strategy in order to better respond to the public and explain the government’s stance on a daily basis.

This government figure then went on to reveal that at first, the chief executive and her principal officials were intentionally keeping a low profile over the last couple of weeks in the hope that by avoiding making public appearances, they could let things cool off a bit.

Yet it didn’t take long for them to realize that their evasive tactics didn’t work, and hence the 180-degree change in their approach to dealing with the media.

By holding press conferences on a daily basis, the government can put all public speculations and doubts to rest, while also avoiding criticism that officials were “hiding behind closed doors” in times of crisis.

Intriguingly though, what the police had failed to foresee was that some activists succeeded in stealing the show on Tuesday by organizing their own presser to counter the government’s propaganda efforts, and explain their position and defend their movement.

Overall, there is something the administration should bear in mind: what the citizens are truly looking for is not the daily appearances of government officials before the cameras, but rather some concrete measures to resolve the deep-seated conflicts in society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 7

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.