The striking irrelevance of the Lam administration becomes more evident by the day. Like the walking dead it haunts the gleaming corridors of the Tamar complex leaving barely a shadow.

The vacuum that remains is filled, as it was previously, by the grey men (it seems to be only men) in the Central Government Liaison Office, who in turn are furiously contacting their masters in Beijing, some of whom have been shifted down to Shenzhen to make it easier to summon hapless officials. Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of other cadres have been dispatched to Hong Kong itself to try and work out what’s going on.

Carrie Lam. Photo:

And then there’s the pro-government poodle squad, who perform best when told what to do. No offence to poodles is intended but they do tend to respond well to obedience training. But how to obey when no one tells you what to do? It’s a problem.

The hard reality of where power lies has not changed but what’s new is the extent to which the administration has more or less ground to a halt except for when it edges forward to remind the public that parody is all that remains of its presence.

Ramming this point home Carrie Lam, the Chief-Executive-in-Name-Only (CENO), said on July 10 that she and her “team” would henceforth “humbly listen to all walks of life.”

This promise was followed by a series of meetings between herself and police associations, an encounter with the Heung Yee Kuk and a flurry of (apparently) awkward meetings with pro-government party representatives. The CENO presumably thinks this is what “all walks of life” looks like in Hong Kong.

Central Government Headquarters. Photo:

So, what is the government actually doing these days? To find out required a visit to the government’s website where two days last week, chosen at random, provided examples of what senior officials were doing: a plan was launched to hold a Belt and Road conference in Beijing on 19 July. The Financial Secretary was in Beijing on Friday, the Education Secretary was whisked off to Guangdong Province on 17 July, where he may or may not have bumped into the Environment Secretary who was in Foshan for an “exchange session on green circular economy,” while the Secretary for Justice was also busy in Beijing meeting representatives from the justice ministry.

However there were still some senior officials left in Hong Kong. The Secretary for the Civil Service was dispatched  to the Water Supplies Department for vital briefings, vital briefings were also given to the Chief Secretary at the Hong Kong Observatory and the Innovation and Technology secretary made his way to Cyberport to offer his congratulations on its “success”.  Yes, that’s what the press release said.

As for CENO herself, she remained in hiding, troubled, no doubt, by the thought that demonstrations planned by so-called loyalists were not even going to offer her fulsome support, merely a plea to “give her more time.”

Carrie Lam. File photo:

Meanwhile, the rumour machine is working overtime and it turns out that these rumours are of better quality than usual. The London-based Financial Times ran a story about how the CENO had made several attempts to resign but was rebuffed by her controllers in Beijing.

Instead of denying the story Ms Lam simply said that she would be continuing to do her best.

Then there was the Apple Daily story about plans to introduce selective curfews to curb demonstrations. Again the facts of the story were not denied but a statement was put out stating the government’s commitment to the right to demonstrate.

So, the nature of the denials inadvertently tells us more than was intended.

The administration of the walking dead is leaking like a sieve. And right at the heart of the frontlines combating protesters, we are hearing reports of mounting discontent among the ground troops over the way that police senior management has handled the protests.

Slogans on the wall read: “release the righteous” and “retract [extradition law]”. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Most amusing however is the way the poodles are behaving. Most of them are fearful of public wrath if they emerge on the streets; all of them are waiting for instructions but are hardly even bothering to listen to anything coming from the CENO administration.

Instead, they anxiously await the trill of a phone call from the Liaison Office. But, lamentably, the “guidance” they receive is incomplete. For the time being, they have to make do with reiterating two narratives handed down from Beijing.

The first is to focus on their opposition to violence and to ignore all peaceful demonstrations. The second is to regurgitate the weary old line about foreign meddling, with strong hints that the protests are orchestrated by sinister foreign forces. This playbook is not working as well as it has in the past but it’s all they’ve got for now.

Meanwhile pity the poor old police officers who were injured in the Sha Tin disturbances, sent to the hospital and then found their recovery interrupted by a visit from the grim-looking CENO and her entourage of other people with nothing else to do – not exactly what the doctor ordered.

John Lee and Carrie Lam leaving the hospital.

As for the rest of Hong Kong, well, it is mainly business as usual and the danger for the bureaucracy is that the longer this goes on the more people will realise how staggeringly irrelevant they are.

Perhaps, however, the clearest indication of Carrie Lam’s personal irrelevance is seen in the many demonstrations around town where practically no one bothers to call for the CENO’s resignation. What’s the point?

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship