Hopes and fears: Zhang Dejiang visits Hong Kong

Loose cannons, not talk of Hong Kong independence or shady karaoke dealings, are Beijing’s real problem

Alice Wu is outraged that the loose mouth of a pro-Beijing lawyer has dented the promise of improving relations between Hong Kong and Beijing following Zhang Dejiang’s visit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2016, 11:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2016, 11:01am

Few could have guessed that Zhang Dejiang’s (張德江) visit to Hong Kong would be so quickly and amateurishly soured, such that I wonder whether Zhang and the rest of the leading “grandpas” in Beijing are fuming inside or laughing out loud. Zhang’s visit was obviously momentous – he came to set some things straight in the right conciliatory tone at a critical time amid deteriorating Hong Kong-Beijing relations.

Obviously, Beijing considered delivering that message of utmost importance, and was not going to let protests and political theatrics hijack it; thus, the high security alert and prominent police presence.

Hope and fears: Zhang Dejiang visits Hong Kong

As it turned out, it was a so-called “Beijing loyalist”, rather than the usual suspects, who snapped the olive branch that Zhang offered, just days after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee chairman concluded his visit. Just as the authorities were working on plans for a short trip to Shenzhen for Hong Kong lawmakers, following Zhang’s groundbreaking meeting with four pan-democrats, we have trigger-happy barrister Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok to thank for being the killjoy.

Beijing ‘has the laws, guns and cannons to prevent independence’, legal expert warns

As executive council chairman of the China-Australia Legal Exchange Foundation, Ma led the group on a three-day tour to Beijing earlier this month, during which members had a closed-door meeting with Basic Law Committee vice-chairman Zhang Rongshun ( 張榮順 ). Once back in Hong Kong, Ma told the media that Zhang Rongshun had said Beijing would respond with “guns and cannon” to any push for Hong Kong independence.

Meanwhile, in a separate scandal, two members on the same study trip were caught having fun in a KTV lounge with several unidentified women.

It is obvious who the political amateur is

How “guns and cannons” – and an evening of frolicking at a KTV joint – came to replace the “belt and road” in the foundation’s “One Belt and One Road Beijing Tour” remains a mystery.

Did Zhang really come out with guns blazing at the closed-door meeting? Veteran politician Maria Tam Wai-chu, an NPC deputy and – until a few days ago – an honorary consultant to Ma’s foundation, quickly refuted the claim, clarifying that Zhang had ruled out using force. Tam, who also attended the closed-door meeting, said the Hong Kong public need not worry about “the problem of ‘guns and cannons’”.

We can only laugh. We know, of course, that the world’s second-largest economy does, in fact, have “guns and cannons”. And we’re laughing because someone obviously thought that, with the June 4 anniversary approaching, Hong Kong people really needed to be reminded of the fact. It is side-splittingly outrageous, even more so than the idea of men frolicking with scantily clad women in karaoke venues. How likely is it that a top official like the vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee legislative affairs commission would emphasise using force at this sensitive time, and days after the NPC Standing Committee chairman’s visit?

It is obvious who the political amateur is.

More than a few others seem to agree, too: just look at all the people distancing themselves from Ma and his foundation. The karaoke exposé only made it easier for them to abandon ship.

On Second Thought: Chinese leadership needs to go the extra mile after Zhang Dejiang’s Hong Kong visit

Beijing’s problem isn’t shady karaoke establishments or Hong Kong independence. It’s loose cannons, loud-mouthed political amateurs like Ma who are as much a threat to Hong Kong’s well-being and Hong Kong-Beijing relations as pro-independence advocates.

Referring to Xinjiang’s (新疆) Flaming Mountains, which traders of the ancient Silk Road had to traverse, Zhang Dejiang sought to rouse confidence in the face of problems by saying “there are no insurmountable Flaming Mountains”. Well, perhaps some “allies” are creating obstacles and making the mountains seem more treacherous than they are.

I do hope Zhang Dejiang finds comfort in some of his own words. Hong Kong people are indeed “discerning enough” – and not only when it comes to discerning whether calls for independence and secession would bring advancement or adversity to the city.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA