Beijing shows softer side as Carrie Lam takes grip

  • The political climate in Hong Kong has become much more favourable to the central government, and there are signs that it is leaning towards a more moderate stance
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 7:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 10:15pm

The central government is generally considered to have taken a much harsher line on Hong Kong ever since the Occupy protests of 2014. There are, however, growing signs that it is leaning towards a more moderate stance.

One indication is that more than 200 non-Cantonese speaking officials fro Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong have been instructed to master the language, on the order of Vice-Premier Han Zheng. This may be seen as a gesture of goodwill and an olive branch.

Moreover, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Feng Wei, who was to retire at 60, has been instructed to stay on. By all accounts a moderate, he has long advocated dialogue with mainstream pan-democrats.

He has argued that activists calling for independence are a minority who do not represent most Hong Kong people, and attributed a good deal of the city’s malaise and animosity towards the mainland as stemming from hardships facing many locals in terms of housing and stagnant wages.

It has been reported that Feng led a team from his office to the city in an informal survey of the attitudes of people from a cross section of society on a range of issues.

Beijing tells liaison office officials to improve their Cantonese

He reportedly met some moderate pan-democrats and asked them, among other sensitive subjects, about the worst-case scenario for Hong Kong if the local government tried to enact national security and anti-subversion laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

To the pan-dems’ credit, they didn’t blow the meeting out of proportion or try to sensationalise it. Instead, they believed Feng was more interested in longer-term implications rather than any immediate action to legislate the controversial article.

This makes sense. Since Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took office, the local political climate has become much more favourable to the central and local governments.

The secessionist movement has been effectively neutralised by the disqualification of radical lawmakers in the legislature, the banning of the Hong Kong National Party and the jailing of dozens of localist activists.

Lam and her hardline Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu have convincingly demonstrated existing laws are more than enough to crack down on secessionists and rioters.

In this context, Beijing can afford to be magnanimous with the local opposition.