Reform debacle in Hong Kong is shifting the base of power

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 June, 2015, 8:46pm

The US State Department may be forgiven for mistaking the Hong Kong government with the central government's liaison office in its global survey of human rights.

"Activists and pan-democratic legislators, however, expressed concern that the [Hong Kong] government took a more restrictive view of protests that occurred at the central government liaison office," the US report said.

"The government instituted more restrictive controls on protests at the CGLO and the Legislative Council complex..."

Instead of the liaison office, it should have said the government headquarters. The two governing entities, though, are increasingly acting like twins, with real power emanating from Western district, where the liaison office is located, rather than Admiralty, the seat of Hong Kong's government.

So the confusion was understandable for compilers of the US report working as far away as Washington. It doesn't say much about its credibility though.

Since Leung Chun-ying took office almost three years ago, Beijing has pursued an active and interventionist policy towards Hong Kong. The most obvious has been the failed electoral reform, which it practically took over in the past 20 months. So, despite the geographical distance, Admiralty is increasingly pulled into the orbit of Western, the real site of power or the conduit of power from Beijing.

You can tell that by people's behaviour. The pro-establishment lawmakers who bungled the political reform vote wept, prostrated and self-flagellated themselves not before mere functionaries like Leung or Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but before the honchos of the liaison office like its director Zhang Xiaoming . It got so alarming that Zhang had to offer tea and comfort at his HQ to stop the lawmakers from embarrassing themselves further in public.

As with the reform debacle, the pan-democrats have been so successful in undermining and de-legitimating the Leung government that Beijing has had little choice but to step in.

Meanwhile, the push back from more Hong Kong people with their anti-mainland sentiments and "nativism" is just an invitation for Beijing to intervene more and more. In future, you might as well protest outside the liaison office, where the real action is.