Tam Yiu-chung has a point: Beijing’s Hong Kong policy will only get tougher
Alice Wu says that the warning from the only Hongkonger on the NPC Standing Committee should be taken seriously, because the end of term limits for Xi Jinping means Beijing won’t be taking a softer line on Hong Kong any time soon
Tam Yiu-chung is a veteran – his political resume includes a 28-year tenure as a Hong Kong lawmaker that spanned the 1997 handover, his membership on the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee, membership on the first Executive Council of the first SAR government, 14-year member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the largest political party in Hong Kong.
History tells us Tam is no fire starter. And he definitely didn’t get elected to the top echelon of the nation’s legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, as a freshman deputy for being an incendiary politician.
As far as political personalities go, Tam is known as the man to go to if you need to keep things “safe”, never goes off-script and has been dousing political fires throughout his career.
So when Tam volunteered to air his new-found “concerns” over Hongkongers who use the slogan calling for an end to “one-party dictatorship” in mainland China risk being barred from running in elections, it seemed completely out of character.
Those comments sparked a political firestorm. Many were quick to condemn and decry Tam’s concerns, as he had anticipated. We can emote and give him all the hate we can muster in response, or we can be thoughtful.
If it were just Tam breaking character and giving provocation a try, then we need not feed his new alter ego by reacting to it. But if Tam is a messenger of sorts – some speculate his task was to “test the waters” – then it makes no sense to shoot that messenger because he is the bearer of news we don’t want to hear.
So, we need to pause, as China’s most recent parliamentary meetings ushered in drastic political changes for the country we are an inalienable part of. Whether we were disengaged citizens or distant observers of national politics, we’re now confronted with the reality of national policies directly affecting us.
Abolishing presidential term limits means Beijing’s hardline policies on Hong Kong are here to stay, indefinitely, and may get tougher yet. The earlier we wake up to the fact that tolerance for political theatrics is gone, the earlier we’ll be aware of Beijing’s readiness to smack down anything it deems separatist, undermining of its authority and an obstacle to achieving the “Chinese dream”. Beijing has gone from playing down political flashpoints to taking advantage of radical political stunts as justification for assertiveness.
Beijing has been throwing around the idea of implementing the “one country, two systems” governing system in the SARs “comprehensively and accurately” for quite some time now, and no one can really put a finger on what that entails.
Tam very suddenly and publicly thinking out loud as Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the NPC Standing Committee may be his way of communicating what “comprehensively and accurately” may mean.
Beijing has made it quite clear that it’s done coddling Hong Kong. The Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative are national policies that include Hong Kong; whether we take part is our choice. Beijing sees them as opportunities that Hong Kong can take advantage of. Should we decide to sit them out, Beijing is not going to wait.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Tam’s predecessor, said much that wasn’t music to our ears, but we need to take stock of the fact that what Fan has being saying throughout her tenure has been true: no good comes of being confrontational with the central authorities. Today’s Beijing will go to extraordinary lengths to prove that true. To continue by whining and screaming “but, but…” or by getting smart: that’ll determine our political future.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA