CITY BEAT TAMMY TAM
City Beat
by

Last week’s perfect storm in Hong Kong now engulfs the world of politics

Controversy over whether Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching should be allowed to retake their Legislative Council oaths highlights whether they really have a strategy to play

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2016, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2016, 8:58pm

What a stormy week for Hong Kong. Typhoon Sarika first, then Haima immediately after that. But weather woes were eclipsed by the perfect political storm inside and outside our already chaotic Legislative Council.

There’s a fine line between playing smart and playing with fire in politics, and that was clearly reflected in the case of the two localist lawmakers – Youngsiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching – at the centre of the storm, with their newly won Legco seats at stake.

The big question is, will the country’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, have to interpret the Basic Law in order to give local courts the final guideline to put an end to the pair’s Legco careers before they have barely begun?

By pledging allegiance at their swearing-in to “the Hong Kong nation”, holding up banners stating “Hong Kong is not China” and pronouncing the country’s name as “Chee-na”, which sounded like the derogatory wartime word used by Japan, the two have offended Chinese sentiment and sparked public anger.

Their antics have backfired at the likely cost of their Legco seats. The government has mounted an unprecedented legal challenge through a judicial review of the Legco president’s decision to allow them to retake their oaths. And thanks to the radical duo, the pro-establishment camp has banded together in an unprecedented show of solidarity, going all out to ensure the localists don’t get a second chance.

It seems Beijing is in no hurry to do its part yet. After leading a delegation last week to meet Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee under the NPC, Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi quoted him as saying it was up to Hong Kong judges to deal with the oath row, as it was a simple matter of deciding whether the pair were genuine or not in taking their vows. This was a clear “fix it yourself” message from Beijing.

The current situation may remind people of Lu Zhi, the political critic of ancient fame who served as a trusted adviser to Emperor Dezong during the Tang Dynasty. He use the term “with boldness but without strategy” to describe those reckless generals who could never win a battle. The term has since been widely used in many classic works of literature, and become one of the most taught phrases in primary schools.

Leung and Yau must have learned this story in their childhood. As younger-generation activists with unconventional styles, they have to ask themselves: why join the establishment if their goal is to seek independence, which is banned by law and lacks public support. Otherwise, are they ready to play by the rules?

In general, whether an activist from a certain social movement should join the establishment is a subject for endless public debate. But for Leung and Yau, being elected means their main battlefield has shifted from the street to the chamber, like it or not. That means there are different rules to follow and new limitations to face. Different strategies are therefore needed.

On the other hand, how to make better use of their entitled resources to carry out the duties of a lawmaker is a new lesson to be learned.

In the case of Leung and Yau, if their qualifications are not in the end invalidated, they can enjoy a handsome monthly salary of HK$93,040, another HK$200,000 in yearly entertainment expenses and HK$2.5 million in annual fees for operating district offices, plus a medical insurance subsidy of about HK$32,000.

Of course being a lawmaker is about more than getting resources: it opens a new frontier with a new environment; blindness, stubbornness and ignorance will not help one survive.

For Beijing, urging Hong Kong to keep its own house in order amid the growing public outcry over the two localists is a strategy of turning something bad into good. It’s drawing a clear red line that can never be crossed and laying down the fundamental principle to nip all independence attempts in the bud within any establishment institutions.

Where and what are the pair’s strategies?