Let’s call a deer a horse

April 23, 2020 06:00
“I really want to be a chief executive for the people, ” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in 2017 after winning the election. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong people have feared an authoritarian noose around their necks since reunification. At first it hung loosely but began tightening in 2003 after 500,000 protesters marched against national security laws. It tightened further following the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

History will record April 2020 as the month Beijing’s authoritarian noose became a chokehold on Hong Kong’s freedoms. It will remember our leader’s betrayal of Hong Kong people. History will also mark April 2020 as the time Beijing dropped all pretense that Hong Kong had a high degree of autonomy.

Only two words can describe the police swoop last Saturday to arrest 15 leading democracy activists: white terror. No words can describe the way Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor stabbed Hong Kong people in the back on Beijing’s orders.

History is replete with examples of white terror. It comes in so many forms that I have always avoided using the term lightly. But last Saturday’s mass arrest was clearly a Hong Kong version of white terror. As the Chinese saying goes: kill the chicken to warn the monkey. The arrest of opposition leaders was Beijing’s way of warning the democracy movement.

The police arrested democracy leaders just a few days after Beijing’s scathing criticism of the opposition. But the police denied any links, claiming it had gathered enough evidence to make the arrests. If you believe enough evidence suddenly materialized against 15 opposition leaders, you might as well believe there are aliens on Mars.

I am waiting for the police to suddenly have enough evidence to mass-charge the thugs who attacked protesters and passengers at the Yuen Long MTR. But we all know that won’t happen. The violent mob attack took place last July, ten months ago. There are numerous videos of the attackers. But the police are still investigating.

The alleged offences of the 15 democracy leaders took place last August and October, less than ten months ago. There are accused of joining illegal assemblies. No violence was involved but the police prioritized their arrests instead of the violent Yuen Long attackers.

Killing the chicken to warn the monkey won’t scare Hong Kong people. Instead, the extraordinary sequence of events in the past week will only galvanize them. It began with mainland officials here accusing opposition legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang of misconduct for filibustering in the Legislative Council. Filibustering is normal in free societies but not in China’s rubber stamp legislature. That’s why Beijing still doesn’t understand Hong Kong after 23 years of reunification.

Let’s see what trumped-up charge Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah will come up with on Beijing’s orders to disqualify Kwok as a legislator. If she kowtows, she will be sticking a knife into an already dead one country, two systems.

After Beijing’s multiple attacks on Kwok last week, Lam insisted it was not interference in Hong Kong’s affairs. Then on Saturday morning, the police arrested 15 leading democracy activists. That same evening the government issued three flip-flopping statements that at first said Beijing’s liaison office and other institutions could not meddle in local affairs under the Basic Law, then finally said they had every right to meddle. It was, as the opposition said, passing a deer off as a horse.

Two days ago, mainland officials in Hong Kong repeated claims they have the power to supervise Hong Kong. That same day, reports, which the government didn’t deny, said Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who oversaw the flip-flopping statements, would be replaced.

The sequence of events in the past few days shows a high degree of autonomy is a myth. In the past I had criticized Lam as Hong Kong’s worst leader. Today I won’t do that. Instead, I implore her to resign. She is no longer in charge anyway. How can she possibly govern when the liaison office says it has the power to supervise Hong Kong? The communist way is to fire people rather than let them resign. But I urge Lam to stand tall and insist on quitting.

She is Hong Kong-born with Hong Kong values. I believe she has the Lion Rock spirit deep in her heart. I urge her to find her soul and dignity by telling Beijing she no longer wants to betray Hong Kong people.

In 2017, Lam came to my TV show soon after winning the chief executive election. I asked her what legacy she wanted to leave. This is how she replied: “I really want to be a chief executive for the people, to be remembered as a chief executive who always takes the people's interest at heart and try her very best to meet those needs of the people.”

That legacy is still possible. All she has to do is tell her Beijing bosses she must have true power to protect the interests of Hong Kong people, the liaison office must not meddle, and a high degree of autonomy must mean exactly that. Otherwise, she will resign.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.