Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a news conference to discuss emergency laws on October 4. Faced with a Hobson’s choice between the army and a locally born and bred dictator, aided by an unaccountable local police force, will Hongkongers choose to fight to the end? Photo: Reuters
by Phil C. W. Chan
by Phil C. W. Chan

What choice do Hong Kong protesters have when the options are the PLA or dictator-in-the-making Carrie Lam?

  • Hong Kong’s morally bankrupt government has crossed the line by invoking emergency powers to bring in an anti-mask law. We have indeed entered a ‘very dangerous situation’ – Carrie Lam, with her unchecked authority, is that danger
Born, raised and educated to university level in Hong Kong, I returned to the city on September 27, just before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, so that I can support my home in person, witness the crisis engulfing the city for five months, listen to views from across the socio-economic spectrum, and gather documentary evidence for my academic and policy research. I also did not want to be a fraud or a coward, commenting on my home in the comfort of a foreign land.
I exercised my Hong Kong Basic Law rights to freedom of association, assembly, procession and demonstration on September 28 and 29, and October 1, 5 and 6. The Basic Law is the superior law in Hong Kong’s constitutional order, and its authority derives from Article 31 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. My exercise of my Basic Law rights and freedoms is not dependent on the indulgence of the Hong Kong police in the form of a letter of no objection.

I have witnessed and experienced bravery, kindness and fear in Hongkongers. On September 29, as I walked from Central to Admiralty for dinner, I was trapped at the Admiralty government offices as the police fired tear gas on Queensway. Pacific Place chained its doors from inside and security personnel refused to open them. The fear in similarly ensnared passers-by (Hongkongers and tourists) – and in me – was sudden and palpable, and I immediately thought of the movie Train to Busan .

Ultimately, we were directed to run up to the High Court and I collapsed as soon as I arrived, having breathed air contaminated by tear gas as I was not wearing a mask. Four young people rushed to pour their precious bottled water and saline on me.

I subsequently had my own moment with a police officer from the bridge to the police headquarters who admonished me for taking photographs on the deserted Hennessy Road. When I asked if photography was no longer legal, he threatened me with a camera. I managed to photograph his unmasked face in turn.

John F. Kennedy once said: “In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.”

From what I have seen and heard, Hongkongers are in despair at a morally bankrupt government at Tamar so fundamentally devoid of political courage. Courage includes taking responsibility for one’s errors. Not one principal government official, not one Executive Council member, and not one pro-establishment legislator has resigned. Not one police officer has been held accountable for his or her actions.
Cowardice breeds arrogance. In a column in the Post back in July, Paul Serfaty and I wrote that any “dialogue” or “listening” that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was offering was purely illusory and doomed to failure. A dialogue takes at least two to tango, and Lam’s “dialogue session” on September 26 showed she was merely parroting herself as she continued to think she knew best.
Now, she has added fuel to the fire, and gone all-in on a bad hand like a bad gambler by invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance on October 4 – the constitutionality of which is questionable – to ban any “facial covering” in public gatherings. Hong Kong is in lockdown. Tears flow at the tragedy that has befallen our city.
In doing so, Lam, enabled by her ministers, Exco members and pro-establishment legislators, has effectively reduced Asia’s world city to Sarajevo in the 1990s, and put paid to any facade of “dialogue” or “reconciliation”. The Rubicon has been crossed, with Lam being able, as she stated on October 4, to impose any further restrictions on Hongkongers’ lives as she might think fit, without encumbrance or oversight.
This is the essence of rule of man (in this case, woman). Regardless of whether she is Beijing’s puppet, Lam, aided by unchecked police powers, is a dictator in the making (any parent knows even a child can be extremely dictatorial). Hong Kong has entered, in Lam’s words on August 5, “a very dangerous situation”. Lam is the danger.
In contrast, the courage, solidarity and determination that Hongkongers have displayed since June 9 is truly a sight to behold. Hong Kong is home to 7.4 million people with different concerns, needs and aspirations. The crisis engulfing our city desperately requires well-conceived political solutions that take into account every Hongkonger, whether he or she lives in public housing or on The Peak.
Every Hongkonger has a stake in our city, contrary to what Lam said on August 9. What we really do not need are dialogues that Lam uses to kick into the long grass the fundamental issues that set off, prolong and deepen the crisis.

If Carrie Lam has any love for Hong Kong, she must clean up her political mess to break the cycle of violence

As I have written in the Post, it cannot be in Beijing’s interest to alienate Hongkongers – especially young Hongkongers – from our mainland compatriots and from China permanently. Every horror movie ends at some point. It is always possible Beijing might decide, after all, to send in the People’s Liberation Army.

Faced with a Hobson’s choice between the army and a locally born and bred dictator, aided by an unaccountable local police force, it is also possible that Hongkongers might decide to fight to the very end.

Phil C.W. Chan is senior fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy. He holds law degrees from the University of Hong Kong, Durham, and the National University of Singapore (PhD). He is author of the book China, State Sovereignty and International Legal Order