You know that the bottom of the barrel is being scrapped when the defenders of authoritarianism descend to the nether regions of logic to justify dictatorial government on the grounds of efficiency.

So it comes as no surprise to see Hong Kong’s Quislings clucking around and declaring that Legco, shorn of an opposition, will at last be able to do its job properly.

Hong Kong lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp. Photo: Kenneth Leung, via Facebook.

They are presumably in training for NPC-style synchronised hand-raising, to ensure that not only do they agree to everything put before them but can be seen to be so doing.

Yes, the legislature will indeed be more efficient without a pesky opposition but this assertion is on a par with saying that once the roads have been cleared of traffic they will preserve their pristine condition. Appearance, they say, is far more important than purpose.

But let us no longer dwell on what the Quislings say or do because at the end of the day they simply do what they are told. In this instance their masters told their willing helpers to cheerlead Beijing’s decision to decide who qualifies for membership of Hong Kong’s legislature regardless of the wishes of the people who put them there. 

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung meets the press on November 11, 2020. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

In an excruciating twist to this story, officials in Beijing went so far as to say that they only acted because Chief Quisling, Carrie Lam, asked them to do so. This explanation requires belief in the absurd idea that Mrs Lam would even blow her nose without specific instructions from her bosses. If she did indeed ask them to act it was only because she was told to do so.

As for the equally absurd notion that the Chief Executive carries any weight in Beijing, well that can be rapidly dispelled by the way she was treated when she was there this week and only granted access to second tier officials on a mission which was billed as allowing her to come back to Hong Kong weighed down by offers of assistance for the ailing economy. If any such offers were made, she has been uncharacteristically silent in announcing them.

Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Apparently the almost entirely superfluous Executive Council was kept in the dark about this plan to emasculate the opposition in Legco and, like the Chief Quisling, they only learned about what was going on via the now traditional method of ‘leaks’ to trusted media outlets who bear the responsibility of delivering bad news before it is officially announced.

The ultimate purge of Legco was the culmination of an agonising process that began very soon after democrats secured 29 seats in the legislature following the 2016 election. Expulsions were first on the agenda, followed by arrests of democrat legislators and then disqualification for running in future elections. In the middle of all this came the scrapping of the election scheduled for last September.

But this was not quite enough for the Chinese Communist Party bent on securing revenge against the people who had the temerity to challenge its authority. This was combined with a determination to ensure that election can no longer serve as a path to representative office.

This, incidentally, is why Wednesday’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision not only expels four sitting members from Legco but makes it clear that should another election be held there will be a widespread disqualification of opposition candidates.

Hong Kong’s election system is sufficiently rigged to get the results the government desires even without draconian expulsions.

Therefore the purpose of expelling opposition members from Legco has nothing to do with empowering the Chief Executive to get the job done (yes, I know…) but is all about the far more substantial aim of punishing the people for daring to elect dissidents in the first place and, even more importantly to hammer home the point that opposition is both futile and dangerous.

No distinction is therefore made between opposition on the streets and the kind of peaceful opposition that takes place at election time.

The total effect is to delegitimize all forms of opposition. This sends a powerful message to the people of Hong Kong who may well conclude that if there is no distinction between peaceful and violent opposition why bother with the non-radical option.

Meanwhile the jails are filling up with political prisoners so that they will become universities of rebellion. The police seem intent on declaring war on members of the younger generation found suspect of going out on the streets, while in schools and universities plans are being drawn up for political indoctrination. This is a recipe for intense radicalisation.

The whole paraphernalia of a police state is rapidly falling into place where opposition views lead to loss of livelihood, a Cultural Revolution-style hotline has been established for people to report on suspected dissidents, elected representatives are booted out of office and the law is being weaponised to a point where it will no longer command respect.

Democratic Party’s Wu Chi-wai. File photo: GovHK.

Wu Chi-wai, the leader of the democratic camp in Legco, said on Wednesday that the opposition was resigning en-masse because the expulsion of their fellow members marked the death of one country, two systems. With respect Mr Wu, that death occurred some months ago with the introduction of the national security law – things have moved on a great deal since then and not in a good way.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He 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. Vines is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium and Market Panic and most recently, Food Gurus. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse. Vines’ latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published in 2021 by Hurst Publishers, London