Is there anything at all that can persuade Carrie Lam to stand up for Hong Kong? A violent political crisis didn’t move her and now we have this lethal health crisis and she still refuses to put Hong Kong’s interests first.

While she drones on about everyone pulling together and the need for a united fight against the coronavirus outbreak, her instincts and actions are always calibrated to put the interests of the people of Hong Kong second.

Carrie Lam. File photo: WEF.

When news of the virus started leaking out from Wuhan, the SAR government wasted vital time that should have been used in taking proactive preventative measures. Instead of acting, the government passively waited for orders from Beijing. Even when the situation turned serious, Carrie Lam and her waxworks were reluctant to lift a finger until finger lifting was sanctioned by the Central Government.

Second, as every country surrounding China sealed its borders to Chinese visitors and even Macau embarked on precautionary measures, the Hong Kong government only acted after public pressure forced its hand. This inaction was due to a fear that the sealing of the border could be viewed as an act of separatism.

Third, why was no attempt been made to bring Hongkongers back from Hubei? Evacuations of this kind have been successfully carried out by countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere but the Lam administration can do no more than whine about how difficult it is. The truth of the matter is that the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO) is petrified that her bosses will view any evacuation plan as signalling that Hong Kong puts itself on a par with a sovereign state.

Fourth, why has the CENO not even suggested the obvious solution to Hong Kong’s dire shortage of locations for quarantine camps? The answer is that the obvious solution is to get the People’s Liberation Army to hand over space (albeit temporarily) in its underused Hong Kong camps. Not only are these spaces ideal in terms of remote location but also in terms of containment. Yet, the CENO and her waxworks are scared stiff to even suggest that the PLA should give up one square inch of its Hong Kong estate because such a suggestion could be seen as challenging the army.

Photo: Kevin Cheng.

Fifth, how come Macau and places like Singapore have managed not only to secure supplies of face masks but have also regulated their distribution while in Hong Kong repeated official promises of fresh supplies have yielded zip and failures on this front have provoked crazy panic buying of all manner of essential supplies.

To understand why this is so is to appreciate that, on the one hand, the government is hampered by the astonishingly rigid ineptitude of its bureaucrats who are sticking to their cumbersome tendering procedures at a time when suppliers can sell their stocks without bothering with all this nonsense.

As regards price and distribution control, despite the existence of an Essential Goods Ordinance, the government does not want to impose controls on supplies as it may upset its tycoon friends and the overseas think tanks that shower Hong Kong with free enterprise awards. In other words, they are fixated with image problems which are considered to be more important than the medical crisis.

Sixth, how could the establishment of quarantine centres have been handled more badly? After SARS, 17 years ago, a government-commissioned study recommended that preparatory work for quarantine centres needed to be made well before the outbreak of a crisis. This would have involved consultation with local communities, mobilisation of staff and supplies and an orderly regime for the centres themselves. With typical hubris, this recommendation was ignored with the dire results that are there for all to see.

Meanwhile, Macau is setting up a factory on the Mainland to produce masks and has already ensured that its residents are supplied with them at no cost. Here in Hong Kong, the private sector has had to step in where the government has failed to act. Ricky Wong, from HKTV, has bought a production line for producing face masks. Joshua Wong and his Demosisto colleagues have managed to secure mask supplies from their contacts in the United States. The best this hopeless government can do is try and squeeze more production out of prisoners.

Photo: Demosisto.

The bottom line is that when push comes to shove the Lam administration, even during a crisis, simply will not stand up for the people of Hong Kong.

Those with relatively long memories will recall the former Chief Executive Leung Chung-yin being asked who he would support in a football match between teams from the Mainland and Hong Kong. After some moments of startled contemplation, he came up with the pathetic answer that he would support both sides. The fear is that Lam could not even muster herself to use the words Hong Kong and support in the same sentence.

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