Beijing's backing for Carrie Lam isn't unconditional

November 11, 2019 16:55
Carrie Lam is facing growing pressure from Beijing to put an end to the unrest and restore order in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong isn't alone in witnessing an outbreak of mass protests that have caught the attention of the international community.

Halfway across the world, Chile is witnessing its worst civil unrest in decades, triggered initially by a proposed subway fare hike.

The protests in the South American country have resulted in over 20 deaths and more than 7,000 arrests.

To quell the violence and chaos, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera withdrew the proposed subway fare hike and devised a number of relief and livelihood measures, and also overhauled his cabinet.

And in his latest bid to ease public grievances, Piñera has vowed that riot police officers and soldiers who are found to have abused their power will be brought to justice with the same degree of force as in the case of rioters.

Chilean authorities are now investigating over 800 cases of alleged use of excessive force and other violence by the police, and are seeking court approval to probe 14 officers suspected of torturing protesters.

Even though Chile and Hong Kong are rather different in terms of their social conditions, there is one thing in common between the two places: acute tensions between the law enforcement and protesters.

With the Chilean president promising that police and soldiers found guilty of rights violations would be prosecuted with the same force as rioters and looters, it begs the question: what about Hong Kong? How can our government put an end to the ongoing violence and chaos?

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng met with Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last Wednesday.

During their meeting, Han reportedly told Lam that she should bear in mind the request of President Xi Jinping and lead the governing team of the SAR to help the territory “start again and march forward again”.

If we read between the lines of Han’s remarks, we can tell that Beijing’s full backing for the chief executive isn’t unconditional, and that the words are tantamount to an official order for her to deliver solid results in return for the support of the central authorities.

In other words, Lam may have secured Beijing’s endorsement for now, but until she is able to meet the demands laid down by Xi to end the violence and chaos, and restore order to Hong Kong, her political life is hanging by a thread.

So what does “delivering solid results” exactly mean?

Again, Han’s words might give us a hint: during the third meeting of the Leading Group for the Development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area task force last week, the vice premier said that when it comes to formulating favorable policies for Hong Kong and Macau, the focus is to allow citizens of the two SARs to be able to actually see, touch and enjoy the benefits.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal