Since she assumed office nearly two years ago, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been spared some of the more vitriolic attacks that were routinely aimed at her widely reviled predecessor, Leung Chun-ying. He was the target at times not just of verbal abuse but also of various projectiles, including a ripe-smelling tuna sandwich and a drinking glass.
So far, Lam has managed to avoid such physical indignities, but the chaos unleashed in the Legislative Council (Legco) this month over her administration’s proposed amendment to the city’s extradition laws marks a nasty new low for her and for Hong Kong politics in general.
It was bad enough when lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, convenor of the pro-democracy camp, accused Lam of “lying through her teeth” during a tumultuous Legco question-and-answer session, a remark for which Mo was unceremoniously evicted from the legislative chamber by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.
Mo’s ire was prompted by some pretty tough language from the chief executive herself, who had denigrated the bill’s detractors as fomenters of “trash talk.”
But there then followed an even bigger explosion of wrath from the normally even-keeled chairman of the Democratic Party, Wu Chi-wai, who, after also being tossed from the chamber, shouted at Lam: “You are useless dead or alive, bitch!”
In total, Leung ejected six lawmakers that day, and Wu refused to retract or apologise for his harsh words, which were clearly well beyond the pale.
Here’s an absolutely furious Wu Chi-wai being removed
— Tom Grundy (@tomgrundy) May 9, 2019
Things got arguably worse on the following Saturday, when pro-government and pro-democracy legislators came to physical blows over the composition of the bills committee tasked with examining the proposed amendment.
By the time the melee was over, NeoDemocrat Gary Fan Kwok-was on his way to a hospital after falling from a table on which he had been standing. Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a well-known Beijing henchman and provocateur, bellowed: “Get up and stop acting, Gary Fan!”
Hongkongers watching video of this violent spectacle could be forgiven for mistaking the combatants for rough-and-tumble politicos in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan or—prior to the passage of the Anti-Scuffling Law of 2012—South Korea’s National Assembly.
Unfortunately, such unedifying displays are likely to multiply in the future as the city’s politics, already wretchedly polarised, reach even more alarming extremes and trust becomes a forgotten word in a political system that has now been reduced to a shouting and shoving match.
Mild-mannered, fair-minded, peace-loving, compromise-making people, of course, rue this state of affairs and hope that, in the end, reason, temperance and practicality will prevail in Legco, in Government House and in all the ministries responsible for carrying out the important business of governing Hong Kong. After all, politics is supposed to be the art of compromise, not a storm-the-barricades free-for-all.
Sadly, however, this hope appears forlorn; compromise, it seems, has already joined trust as an officially superannuated concept. You can look forward to more barricades and more storming. And more—and probably worse—violence, linguistic and otherwise.
Wu’s “You are useless dead or alive, bitch!” outburst is absolutely reprehensible, and he should apologise unequivocally for uttering an insult that went way beyond the issue at hand, entering the realm of personal abuse tinged with misogyny.
That said, however, where is all this vituperative anger, not to mention physical aggression, coming from? Why are grown men and women behaving like schoolyard bullies and brawlers in our own mini-parliament?
These questions lead us back to our fearless leader and her coterie of kow-towing ministers and advisers who, once they receive a command from their political masters in Beijing, are blindly bound and determined to carry it out, no matter the size and force of opposition that confronts then.
The extradition bill has become a flashpoint for this tendency of the Lam administration to ignore—and even express naked contempt for—the voices of Hong Kong in favour of unpopular edicts handed down from on high in the north.
The bill—which would allow extradition on a case-by-case basis to any jurisdiction, including China and Taiwan, with which Hong Kong does not already have a treaty—has been blasted from nearly all quarters out of concern that the authoritarian Chinese leadership could use it to extradite people from Hong Kong for obscurely defined economic crimes allegedly committed on the mainland, and to go after political dissidents residing in the city.
In addition to the pan-dems’ revolt in Legco, the Bar Association has denounced the bill, the American Chamber of Commerce and other business elites have sent out alarums, tens of thousands of ordinary Hongkongers have hit the streets in protest, and democratic governments around the world have also expressed their displeasure.
Most tellingly, however, Taiwan, which the Lam administration touts as the chief beneficiary of the bill, wants no part of it.
If you believe the chief executive, a murder case involving a 20-year-old Hong Kong man, Chan Tong-kai, who has reportedly admitted killing his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, in Taiwan last year before returning to Hong Kong, has created an urgent need for the amendment.
Chan is currently serving a 29-month prison sentence on charges of money laundering that arose from his theft of Poon’s possessions. He could be free as early as October and, officials warn, is a flight risk once he leaves his prison cell.
But Taiwan, regarded as a rebel province by the Chinese leadership, will not sign on to a treaty that could conceivably result in Taiwanese citizens living in or visiting Hong Kong being extradited to China on the kind of fabricated charges for which Chinese security forces are notorious.
So who wants this bill to pass? Plainly, Beijing and Beijing alone. Just as plainly, Lam regards the extradition showdown as her Article 23 moment.
In 2003, Hong Kong’s first CE, Tung Chee-hwa, caved in to mass protests and shelved draconian anti-subversion legislation pushed by the central government and mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law, a decision that would gravely disappoint his political masters in Beijing and ultimately lead to his resignation less than two years later.
That is a fate Lam, at all other political costs, appears hell-bent on avoiding.
Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.