The approach of July 1 – the anniversary of our transition from not being a colony to not being even less of a colony, and the date when our new Chief takes over – has produced an outburst of over-the-top behaviour.

Carrie Lam 25th handover anniversary red line
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press on May 31, 2022. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

First we were told that police were scouting Wanchai for places to station snipers. Two hotels were then requisitioned – guests expelled, bookings cancelled – to make room for official visitors who would, we were coyly told, probably include “state leaders.” Hordes of police would be deployed for the occasion.

It was then announced that many of our own senior leaders would be expected to go into quarantine for a week before the happy event. Meetings of the 90 nominated nobodies, or LegCo as we are supposed to call it these days, were cancelled.

Even more intriguingly, it emerged that a local school was recruiting 12-year-olds who would also go into a week’s quarantine – living in hotel, lessons by Zoom – in preparation for the “rare honourable mission” of greeting state leaders at the airport and farewelling them when they left.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping. File photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr.

A surreal note crept in with a Standard report that “a number of disciplinary services’ craft had been patrolling the area” of the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The report continued: “Eleven vessels of the Marine Police, the Immigration Department, Customs, Fire Services and the Correctional Services Department patrolled the area for 30 minutes from noon.”

What on earth was that all about? This can hardly be a security precaution. If they want a standing patrol off Wanchai for the length of the official visit, that can safely be left to the Marine Police. Subversive fish can be left to the Ag and Fish Department.

It appears we may be treated to some sort of float-past, with the senior officer present taking the salute from a base on the shore. This would be a Covid-conscious alternative to the traditional guard of honour, because the distinguished guest would be a long way from the passing troops.

Carrie Lam Xi Jinping July 1 2017 Hong Kong
President Xi Jinping (right) swears in the Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam (left), at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Fifth Term Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this morning (July 1). File photo: GovHK.

The thing that bothers me about all this is the continuing refusal of all concerned to admit the obvious, which is that all this trouble is being taken for a visit by President Xi Jinping. All the official voices agree that such a visit would be nice but may not be what they are planning.

A third possibility has been floated recently – a mini-visit. This would presumably involve one anniversary ceremony, the anointment, coronation, investiture or whatever of Mr John Lee, and a hasty retreat to Beijing. But we are still warned that the “state leaders” may or may not include Mr Xi.

There seem to be two important points being overlooked here. The first is that a great deal of trouble has been taken, and money spent. Normal government has been disrupted, police leave cancelled and so on. If after this huge fuss we are visited only by a few bigwigs of whom most of us know nothing, there is going to be disappointment. Nobody minds pushing the boat out for Mr Xi – it is what is expected – but a visitor who causes so much fuss could reasonably be expected to be upfront about whether he is coming or not.

John Lee
Hong Kong’s John Lee photographed on July 1, 2021, when the city marks 24 years since its handover to China. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The second important point is that Hong Kong people are not stupid. We all understand that Mr Xi has many responsibilities. Even if he genuinely expects to come, the visit may properly be cancelled if the public health situation takes a turn for the worst. Or Mr Xi may be confronted by some major event – an earthquake, World War 3 – which will have to take priority at the last minute over what is after all a ceremonial occasion.

But Hong Kong people are not children who need to be treated to a bout of phoney suspense over whether Santa will come down the chimney with presents this year. Mr Xi has evidently been booked. There are good reasons why he might have to cancel at the last minute but preparing to say “Well, we never said he was coming” if that happens is unnecessary and dishonest.

This does actually illustrate the advantages enjoyed by countries like the UK and Sweden which have constitutional monarchs, or countries like Germany and Ireland which have a president who is above the mundane political fray. The full-time figurehead can do the anniversaries and enthronements, while leaving the real leader to get on with the job of running the country.

It would take a brave man to argue that this arrangement produces greater efficiency. But it is more entertaining.

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.