Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

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fountainhall
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Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:38 pm

A long background to a hugely complicated situation.

Last Sunday’s Protest March of an estimated one million people through Hong Kong’s Central District captured headlines all over the world. Tomorrow when the Legislative Council – effectively Hong Kong’s parliament – sits, more demonstrations have been promised. The Federation of Trades Unions has also pledged to strike, an almost unheard of development.

Pundits and journalists have informed an unknowing public that Beijing is breaking the agreements jointly entered into by Britain as the colonial power and China as the power to which Hong Kong would be returned in 1997. But is it? Since this is an action solely by the Hong Kong government (or so we are told by officials), can China really be the party to be blamed? Is China interfering with those agreements? If so, why is Britain as the joint signatory to those agreements not making much more of an international fuss about it? It is a hugely complicated issue. Over the last two days I have been asked for my views by two posters on this Forum. For them and anyone else remotely interested, I will try and explain.

On CNN this morning, there was an interview with a Hong Kong democracy advocate, Nathan Wong. As a student this young man served time in prison for his part in the ‘umbrella’ democracy movement which five years ago brought central Hong Kong almost to a standstill for several months. He came across as eloquent, highly articulate with an excellent command of English and of the preparation of his arguments. He was hugely impressive. Yet he and his colleagues advocating greater democracy in Hong Kong were effectively sold down the river by Britain, and in particular by one man appointed by the UK to oversee the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. At that time in the early 1990s, Nathan Wong was a mere toddler.

Basic History

As the 1970s came to an end, Britain faced a problem. Its increasingly prosperous colony of Hong Kong was living on borrowed time. On June 30 1997 the country’s 99-year lease on Hong Kong’s New Territories would come to an end. Unlike the 1842 and 1860 treaties which ended the first two Opium Wars and ceded to Britain in perpetuity first Hong Kong Island and then part of the Kowloon Peninsula up to what is now named Boundary Street, the British traders on Hong Kong wanted more land. Under the Second Convention of Peking in 1898, the land known as the New Territories to the north was ceded to Britain on the basis of the 99-year lease. The British government wanted the land in perpetuity but faced strong opposition from the Chinese. Perhaps thinking that 99 years was too far in the future to worry about, the British signed the agreement.

These New Territories and the more than 200 islands that were included in the lease occupy about 92% of Hong Kong’s land. Without them, Hong Kong was no longer viable. With the lease expiring 20 years ahead, Hong Kong’s investment community and developers were starting to become concerned about future investment in the colony. Without some guarantee about the future beyond 1997, investment would grind to a halt.

In 1979, the then Governor of Hong Kong, the highly respected and much-admired Sir Murray Maclehose, made a trip to Beijing to meet with the head of the Communist Party, Deng Xiao ping, newly back in charge after being purged twice. Deng had an agenda. He wanted to totally overhaul China’s economic model as the only way in which the country could be dragged out of perpetual poverty. He could not go to international banks. But around the world there was a huge and wealthy Chinese diaspora who could be wooed to invest in the ‘new’ China. Chinese roots run deep. The nearest and obvious source of major capital were the many recently emerged billionaires in capitalist Hong Kong. At a much lower level, the average man in the street was regularly sending back money to the extended family and home village in China. During the annual Chinese New Year migration, vast numbers of Hong Kong citizens returned to their place of birth to celebrate with family and friends.

Maclehose returned from Beijing with a message from Deng. “Tell Hong Kong’s investors not to worry.” It was not much, but it was enough to start another of Hong Kong’s mini-booms. The assumption was that Deng was fully aware of the 1997 issue and there might be a chance that he would agree to the lease being extended if not renewed. It was a false hope.

Thatcher goes to Beijing

Britain’s Prime Minister started the negotiations on Hong Kong’s future with a visit to Beijing in 1982. Despite the views of her senior civil servants and ambassadors to China past and present, she was full of confidence that she could negotiate a deal for a renewal of the lease. Her advisers knew that Deng Xiao-ping was never going to agree. Like all the older generation of Chinese leaders of the time – and of many Chinese today, the British part in the Opium Wars had started a century and a half of national humiliation. Deng saw the return of Hong Kong as finally putting that to an end.

Thatcher’s visit had an inauspicious beginning. She fell as she ascended the steps up to the Great Hall of the People. This was eagerly seized upon by the Chinese media who saw it as an inauspicious sign for Britain. She then met Deng who, according to her Memoirs, told her, “We can walk in and take back Hong Kong tomorrow if we wished.” Thatcher retorted that this was true, but it would bring about Hong Kong’s collapse. The ‘killing the goose that lays the golden egg’ argument!

For some time Thatcher maintained that Britain could hold on to the New Territories even without an agreement. Her advisors informed her that the Chinese did not even need to march into Hong Kong. They could bring the territory to its knees just by turning off the taps on the large pipelines which provided most of Hong Kong’s fresh water. Thatcher was not impressed. She would have a fleet of tankers converted so they could moor off Hong Kong and bring in water that way! And she was serious!

Eventually, after often-acrimonious meetings over two years, an agreement was reached. Called the “Joint Declaration”, under its terms Britain would return the whole of Hong Kong to China in July 1, 1997 and not just the leased New Territories. Thatcher had climbed down. To persuade her, Deng had come up with his “one country, two systems” idea. This would give Hong Kong near total control of its own destiny, other than in defense. The Joint Declaration was a legally binding treaty, registered with the United Nations, to remain in force for 50 years following the handover.

Although few knew – nor really cared much about - what might happen thereafter, the thinking on the UK and Hong Kong side was that as China continued to develop its economy, more freedoms would be introduced, including political freedom. By 2047, therefore, China would have become much more like free-wheeling Hong Kong. Only some believed that China would actually tighten its controls within the mainland.

The terms of the Joint Declaration then had to be fleshed out so that Hong Kong could continue as a legal entity and its rights and freedoms enshrined in a full legal agreement. This was termed the Basic Law. A committee was set up in 1985 and a first draft of the bill published in 1988 for public consultation. The final bill was signed in April 1990. Importantly in view of the current protests, the Hong Kong government had to enact a law prohibiting acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Central People's Government and theft of state secrets.

Before the signing, Hong Kong’s confidence in the one country two systems solution sank to dangerously low levels following the events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. If that could happen in Beijing, what might happen after 1997 if Hong Kong people wished to protest against its government was the view. The Hong Kong government decided it had to focus attention on several mega-projects to show its confidence in Hong Kong’s future. One was the construction of the new international airport.

Chinese concern that Britain would depart taking all Hong Kong’s financial reserves

Building the airport basically in the sea off Lantau Island was a hugely expensive project estimated in excess of US$20 billion. Some in Beijing were concerned that the Hong Kong government would exhaust its very considerable reserves and leave the post-1997 government with little in the coffers. This was to be a recurrent theme over the next few years. Hong Kong had very substantial foreign exchange reserves. It also had another mega-fund to be used exclusively to defend the value of the Hong Kong dollar which is still linked to the US$ at a fixed exchange rate. To help appease Beijing, Hong Kong agreed to set aside a percentage of all land sales until the handover date in a special Land Fund that would be handed over to the new government.

By June 1997, Hong Kong’s foreign exchange reserves were the fifth largest in the world at US$67.6 billion. The amount in the Land Fund was US$15.3 billion. These were duly handed over to the incoming Hong Kong government by the exiting colonial power. But a serious complicating factor had come to the forefront before then, one that had the conservatives in Beijing continuously concerned that the UK would just pocket the lot and sail off with it in the hold of the Royal Yacht Britannia on July 1 1997.

Hong Kong’s last governor upsets the apple-cart

Their concern centred on the figure of one man. Christopher Patten was a well-known politician in the UK. After several junior posts in the various Thatcher governments, he entered the cabinet as Environment Secretary in 1989. When John Major became Prime Minister the following year, he was promoted to Chairman of the Conservative Party, in that post masterminding the Party’s election campaign in 1992, an election John Major seemed certain to lose. He won, but Patten lost his parliamentary seat. Major offered him a senior government post which he declined. He asked instead to become the last governor of Hong Kong. Major could hardly turn him down, even though traditionally this post had been given to very senior civil servants with extensive foreign experience, including time at the Embassy in Beijing and an ability to speak Mandarin fluently. Patten had almost no such experience whatever.

Hong Kong’s lack of democratic tradition

Patten arrived in a Hong Kong that knew little about democracy. Britain had had many decades to introduce it, but it was something few in Whitehall cared about. And with the vast majority of Hong Kong people being economic refugees from mainland China, making a living and making money was of far greater importance. Successive Hong Kong governments had slowly introduced a degree of democracy at city council and government level. But this was not one-man-one-vote democracy. It was based on professional interest groups and you voted within your particular group. China was happy for this to continue – and even for the franchise to be extended to many more individuals in elections within ten years of the handover. By that stage half of the members of the Legislative Council would be elected members. The objective of both the UK and China was that the limited elections scheduled for 1994 would provide a through-train – so that the same parliament would continue with its mix of appointed and elected representatives well beyond 1997. Once again, as Hong Kong’s major economic boom progressed in the early 1990s, democracy was very much at the back of the minds of the vast majority of the population.

Patten, though, was a committed democrat. He also arrived in Hong Kong with a hidden agenda, one that most assume had not even been approved by his Prime Minister. A clever man although, as he was to show in a subsequent posting as Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation from which he was forced to resign after three years of major errors, his administrative ability was questionable.

He was also a supremely confident man with a profound self-belief. When he arrived in Hong Kong, he threw off the usual trappings of being a governor and got down, literally, to meeting the people. ‘Fat Pang’ became very popular with his unannounced meet-the-people walkabouts. Hong Kongers became convinced he was looking after their interests – a quality far from all previous Governors had shown. Patten needed that public acclaim for what he was about to do, much of it in a totally clandestine way.

Patten’s Plan

Britain and China had agreed that subsequent to the signing of the Basic Law developments in Hong Kong would be carefully monitored by both sides. Neither would take unilateral action and there would always be prior consultation with and agreement from the other. Patten set about breaking this agreement. First he started by giving his backing to the fledgling Democracy Party in Hong Kong. Then, behind closed doors, he began to examine every tiny phrase of the Joint Declaration and the Basic law, both of which had been enshrined in the law of China and Hong Kong. He was looking for every possible loophole that he could find. Given that both governments had been negotiating in a virtually unique international situation, inevitably there were some. Patten grasped at them. He was determined he would then go public, even without prior to discussion with Beijing. His mission? Greater democracy.

When Patten announced the new electoral reforms that he planned to introduce unilaterally, it was not only Beijing that was furious. Prime Minister John Major was far from pleased. As time progressed, it has been alleged that he twice tried to recall Patten and replace him. On both occasions, Patten refused. For Major to have insisted would have led to a worldwide scandal. For a Governor to be withdrawn for trying to extend the franchise would have been met with howls of protest from much of the world’s media. Patten stayed where he was.

The secret filming and resultant book

What particularly angered a lot of people was that Patten’s actions had not been totally secret. Without advance approval from London, he had invited a friend, the television journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, to visit Hong Kong regularly with a film crew. They had access to extremely sensitive meetings, although none seems to have been involved in any official secrets. After Patten made his announcement, Dimbleby’s documentary series was aired on British television and a book published entitled “The Last Governor”. Ironically, Patten had revealed his own duplicity.

China’s anger was palpable. Patten was called “whore of the East” and other obscenities. From that moment, co-operation over the handover ceased. From China’s viewpoint, Patten had totally broken the spirit of the entire decade-long negotiation. What other damage would he do? Hence the fears in Beijing about Hong Kong’s future finances (see above).

Patten’s “fatal miscalculation”

Although the British media were vociferously on Patten’s side and several MPs openly praised him, behind the scenes in Westminster there was considerable fury. Sir Percy Craddock had spent several tours in the British Embassy in Beijing, notably first at the start of the Cultural Revolution when he and his wife were roughed up by Red Guards. He rose to the post of Ambassador, in which role he was Margaret Thatcher’s Chief Advisor during the Joint Declaration and Basic Law negotiations. Craddock was horrified by Patten’s shenanigans. He knew what would happen and he knew the lasting damage this would cause in Hong Kong. In a lengthy article in the April 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine titled “Losing the Plot in Hong Kong”, he wrote –
“The picture presented in the press is likely to remain the black-and-white one of democrats in Hong Kong, led by the governor, fighting bravely, if unavailingly, against the communist hordes.

“The real story is more complicated, but of great interest. It is the story of a bad mistake, which has left Hong Kong worse off in terms of protection and democracy than it need have been. It has gone unacknowledged, as government errors tend to do, and has been almost buried under the powerful emotions stirred up by the loss of our last great colonial possession and the inevitable political-cultural clash between Britain and China. But it is there; and to those of enquiring mind it casts light on how policy is made, and overturned, and presented in this country . . .

“[Patten] hoped the Chinese would agree to [his] reforms; if not, he was ready to implement them unilaterally. He presumably calculated that, after initial objections, Beijing would come to acquiesce in the changes and that Chinese warnings were bluff.

“This proved a fatal miscalculation. Not surprisingly, given the background, the Chinese objected strongly to his plans. They saw them as a U-turn in British policy and a breach of the constitutional and political settlement enshrined in the Joint Declaration, the agreement on directly elected seats and the Basic Law. They were particularly incensed by the public nature of his proposals and the refusal of their request for private consultation before he went public.”
Craddock ends his lengthy and fascinating insight with this sentence –
“All who look beyond the headlines will wonder why Britain, with its long and rich experience of China, should reserve its biggest mistake for the last act of the play.”
China’s anger and reaction

I lived in Hong Kong throughout this entire period. Apart from a handful of senior Hong Kong civil servants, no one knew what he was planning, but I did watch Patten as his vanity came to the fore. I saw him grow in stature. I watched his obvious enjoyment at being at the top of the tree and then later his certainty that what he was doing was in the best interests of Hong Kong people. As Craddock clearly stated, though, it was not. John Major’s decision to accede to his request about being posted to Hong Kong was a huge blot on his period as Prime Minster. Worse, it forced open a door that allowed democracy to enter Hong Kong which had never been envisaged by London and which ensured that the democratic advances promised by both Britain and China would never happen.

The first, the through train, was immediately derailed by China which set up its own Legislative Council to sit from July 1 1997. Open elections still occur as promised but still only for a minority of the seats. Development of the agreed electoral process stalled.

This week’s demonstrations

The second concerns the present demonstrations. Under existing agreements, China has the right to seek the extradition of its own citizens who have committed a crime on the mainland. Similarly Hong Kong has the same right for its citizens who have fled to China. What the Hong Kong government is now proposing is that China shall have the right to seek the extradition of Hong Kong citizens who, in China’s eyes, have broken certain laws relating to the mainland, including those listed above – anyone involved in acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Central People's Government and theft of state secrets. But the new law extends that list of ‘crimes’ whilst ensuring the placement of extensive safeguards. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has stated that Beijing never spoke to her about this new law and she has not spoken to the Chinese government. Few believe this. After all, she was ‘elected’ by a small group of rich and powerful Hong Kong businessmen from a shortlist approved by China.

The now retired Chris Patten and British politicians are publicly calling China’s actions a breach of the previous agreements. Like paper tigers, they say Britain has a commitment to ensure the provisions of these agreements are kept through to 2047. But Britain lost all semblance of moral authority as a result of Patten’s breach of the agreements. What concerns the British government now are trade relations with China. The Hong Kong issue is no longer of any real importance – if only because Britain can do absolutely nothing about it.

As for Hong Kong democrats like Nathan Law, he and some former fellow students formed a new political party and stood for election to the Legislative Council in September 2016. At the age of 23 he became the youngest-ever lawmaker in Hong Kong history. But he and five other young democrats refused to take the formal oath of office. This is enshrined in the Sino-British agreements and so they were effectively breaking the law. All were disqualified as legislators in July 2017.

Sadly for Law and all his supporters, the deck is stacked heavily against them. But it was never going to be much different. Even Patten’s arch-critic Sir Percy Craddock accepted that Britain’s negotiating position in the early 1980s was extremely weak. As he wrote of the situation facing the UK –

“The facts pointed only one way: if we wanted to do our best for Hong Kong, and this had to be the overriding objective, we had to co-operate with China. This did not mean agreeing with everything China proposed; tough negotiation was always necessary and always practiced. But it did mean recognising that any security after 1997 had to be underwritten by the new sovereign power; and that for Hong Kong in its unenviable position it was better to have an agreed settlement rather than confrontation, which could simply leave Beijing a free hand.”

Patten’s legacy

It is important to understand that like the present day UK and USA, Hong Kong society is totally split. There is a very large group of people who are pro greater integration with mainland China. This group vociferously does not seek greater democracy for Hong Kong. But once the democrats saw Patten’s open door, they rushed through it believing that his reforms would actually take place.

A local UK politician with a strong belief in his ability to change the course of history but with no experience of China and negotiating with China, Christopher Patten decided he did not need the advice of the Foreign Office mandarins in London. John Major regretted agreeing to his appointment. It was Hong Kong that suffered as a result, none more so than young Nathan Law and his increasing band of followers. Far from extending the democratic franchise, Patten’s disastrous and petty actions only resulted in a future spread of democracy being consigned to the scrap heap. I am sure Mr. Law will continue his fight. I sincerely hope he will and that he succeeds. Perhaps at some time in the future he will. For the present, I fear that Patten has ensured his mission is all but doomed.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by Gaybutton » Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:48 pm

Thank you. Until now I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by Asia Traveler » Wed Jun 12, 2019 11:02 am

Excellent post and I agree with your assessment of Jason Wong. What a brave and heroic person he is.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Wed Jun 12, 2019 11:49 am

News just in that the Hong Kong government has postponed the second reading of the new Extradition Bill due for this afternoon. This comes as many tens of thousands of protestors had gathered in the streets close to the Legislative Council building and riot police were on stand-by. The excuse given is that legislators could not access the LegCo building because of the number of demonstrators!

Thank you for your kind comment Asia Traveler. I am always amazed at how passionate and articulate the young advocates of democracy are in Hong Kong. (A small point. I think you are confusing Nathan Law with his fellow former student activist who also went to jail, the equally impressive Joshua Wong. Hardly surprising because I made the mistake in the early paragraphs of calling the CNN interviewee Nathan Wong instead of Nathan Law!! When Law made his maiden speech in the Legislative Council, he stated, "you can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind." This highly articulate and committed group of graduates really do deserve to play a role in Hong Kong's future.)

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:22 am

i need to make one correction to my long OP. Friends with a lot more experience than I of the last years of British rule in Hong Kong have pointed out that I am wrong in saying Prime Minister John Major was against the appointment of Patten as the last Governor. It seems Patten's main backer was Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. Hurd was fed up over China's continual carping over issues relating to the new airport to the point where it might not get built. Hurd felt a Governor with political wheeling and dealing experience might have better success than the existing Governor, Sir David Wilson, a career civil servant and old China hand who had spent ten years in the British Embassy in Beijing. Against the advice of his own civil servants, Hurd propesed Patten's appointment to Major who agreed.

Newly declassified files show that Wilson was actually forced to retire by Major when only 57, long before he would be expected to retire. Yet in the months prior to the announcement of the departure, John Major had repeatedly denied to the media that Wilson would be withdrawn. Dame Lydia Dunn, the senior member of the Governor's Executive Council, the highest body in the territory, had earlier warned Hurd against the change, writing
“I, and many colleagues [in the Executive Council], believe that a change in governor in the immediate future, i.e. before 1995, would not be in Hong Kong’s interest. It would add further uncertainty at a time of rapid political and psychological change.”.
After the announcement of Wilson's departure, a hiatus of several months then ensued, illustrating the degree of uncertainty in London. Patten was still an MP at the time of Wilson's termination and there seemed little doubt that he would be re-elected in the April 1992 general election even though the Conservative Party might lose. The loss of his seat was a shock to everyone. So it is highly unlikely that Major had Patten in mind a few months earlier. Who he might have had in mind is immaterial now.

So in denying the formal requests of Hong Kong's most senior cabinet, Prime Minister John Major paid them zero attention. He thus bears an even greater personal responsibility for what is now happening in Hong Kong.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by Asia Traveler » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:09 pm

Thank you for the correction fountainhall. The hero’s of Hong Kong should be remember properly.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Sat Jun 15, 2019 10:29 am

Not surprisingly, some of the Chief Executive's senior advisors are now advocating a delay to the Second Reading of the Extradition Bill in order to let tempers cool and the issue to become less divisive in the short term. Even one pro-Beijing lawmaker has joined this group.

Mrs. Lam, though, appears to be deaf to their pleas. Another member of her executive Council, Regina Ip, has taken a hard stance and told her not to give in to protestors.

Mrs. Ip is a somewhat oddball character. She was formerly a senior civil servant. From 1998 to 2003 she occupied the post of Secretary for Security. You'd think that if anyone should be aware of scams, it would be someone who had been responsibile for the security in one of the richest cities in the world. But no! In 2005 Mrs. Ip fell for one of the oldest email scams.
[Mrs. Ip] believes she let her guard down to the scammers when she opened an attachment on an email purportedly from MTR Corporation chairman Dr Raymond Chien Kuo-fung.

"He wrote in the email, 'Regina, I need help. Urgent. Please open the attachment'," Ip said yesterday.

"I thought a friend needed help so I opened the attachment at once. I guess that's when I fell into the trap." Ip, who on Sunday revealed she was laying the groundwork for a possible chief executive run in 2017, said Chien emailed her hours later, saying his account had been hacked and advising her to change her password.

"Because I was busy, that was an oversight on my part; I forgot to change the password," Ip said.
US$65,000 was stolen from her account and disappeared.

The mind boggles! And to think this woman thought she was suitable to be Chief Executive of Hong Kong! Now she is an official advisor to the present Chief Executive! Hopefully not on security issues.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48635223
https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/art ... cybertheft

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Sat Jun 15, 2019 12:32 pm

Having described Regina Ip as an oddball, Carrie Lam, the present Chief Executive, might also come into some sort of oddball category. Mrs. Lam is a devout Catholic. She has said in the past that she has a place in heaven because "I do good things". :o I suppose that's a kind of arrogance, a quality others have noted in her character.
“She is a pretty arrogant leader. She likes to remind people that she always came first in class, if people disagree with her she tries to correct them, she likes to prove that she knows best,” said Kenneth Chan, a professor in the department of government at Hong Kong Baptist University. “She does not take opposition or dissent well. And her intransigence has caused a serious governance crisis.”
And when she stated -
God had called upon her to join the race [for The Chief Executive position]
- is that not also a form of arrogance bordering on the Donald Trump variety?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/ ... ing-puppet
https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/03/30/n ... g-cabinet/

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Sat Jun 15, 2019 5:11 pm

It was announced this afternoon that further consideration of the proposed new Bill has been suspended. This is a major climb down by the Hong Kong government and will not be seen favourably in Beijing. Mrs. Lam now joins her three predecessors in being seen to be ineffective in their posts and her future will almost certainly be in some doubt. Given that all four Chief Executives were effectively appointed by Beijing, this will give the protesters another shot in the arm as they aim for a greater say in their government.

Even with this concession, it seems there is a good chance the protestors will continue to demonstrate with a view to getting the Bill killed altogether.

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Re: Hong Kong: What’s Going On?

Post by fountainhall » Sun Jun 16, 2019 2:40 pm

Update: The Unfortunate Tale of Hong Kong's Chief Executives since 1997

Following the unprecedented violence on Hong Kong streets mid-week and the huge loss of face resulting from the climb down by the Chief Executive, Mrs. Lam, when she suspended discussion of the Extradition Bill yesterday, Hong Kong people in their hundreds of thousands are again on the streets today. No longer just the younger generation and democrats. Today there is a very large number of families with young children.

As stated in an earlier post, Mrs. Lam is an odd figure. Prior to her ‘election’ as Chief Executive, she was a senior civil servant. On many occasions she had proposed extending the franchise. She had even said the election for the Chief Executive in 2017 should be by universal suffrage. As with her predecessors, though, that did not happen and she did not object. She was elected by around 1,200 senior Hong Kong business and other figures, all handpicked by Beijing.

Her future now must be in doubt. Beijing has a lousy record in the appointment of Chief Executives. The first one in 1997 Tung Chi-wah was the son of one of Hong Kong’s shipping billionaires. C. Y. Tung is perhaps best known for buying the Cunard trans-Atlantic liner Queen Elizabeth, once the largest passenger liner ever constructed. It was moored in Hong Kong harbour near the new airport location to be converted into the Seawise University (C Y’s = Seawise – geddit??). A major fire mysteriously broke out as it was being refitted. This consumed the ship which then sank. Triad involvement is assumed to have been involved, but the reason has never been discovered. What is known is that C Y Tung had purchased the ship for US$3.5 million but insured it for $8 million.



His son was thought by both Britain and China to be a good choice. He turned out to be pretty much a disaster and was forced to step down.

His successor, Donald Tsang, had been a very successful Financial Secretary in the pre-handover government. A dapper, confident man, he completed his term but was later accused of extensive corruption and official misconduct. He served 12 months in jail! His successor , Leung Chun-ying, was also surrounded in scandal when it was discovered he had failed to reveal the receipt of 50 million Australian dollars and other abuses. He was not permitted – presumably by Beijing – to stand for a second term. He is a free man but may still be charged.

Now Mrs. Lam. The fact that the demonstrations over the last week have been so massive, the international outrage, the climb down, her stupidity in not apologizing for the police violence and her defiant promise to prosecute students, and now yet another mass demonstration will have greatly sullied her reputation in Beijing. Crying during a CNN TV interview midweek will have done her no good at all – a sign of weakness. Hong Kong people have the bit between their teeth. The government cannot possibly consider another Tiananmen Square event. So she has no choice but to act in a much more conciliating way if the demonstrations are to be stopped.

I am certain her future is now vastly less secure. Don’t be surprised if she resigns or is forced to resign after a reasonable period of time to avoid too much loss of face.

So Beijing’s manipulation of Hong Kong’s leadership has evidently been lousy. Nothing gives me any hope that this will change.

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