A protester holds a placard depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 16. Photo: Reuters
by Michael Chugani
by Michael Chugani

Replacing Carrie Lam with another puppet would be pointless. Instead, Beijing needs to loosen the strings

  • The Hong Kong crisis is likely to end in tragedy unless Carrie Lam can muster the courage to tell her bosses in Beijing to stop eroding the city’s autonomy, allow genuine democratic elections, and end the insidious mainlandisation

When a puppet show loses appeal, the smart thing is to reinvent the storyline. The dumbest thing is to keep the old plot with a few character changes. Audiences will not be duped.

Hong Kong is like a puppet show morphing into a Greek tragedy. The puppet strings stretch all the way to Beijing where furious puppet masters insist only a small minority of people brainwashed by the West are booing what is otherwise an excellent show.

Still, there is talk Beijing will soon replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who triggered Hong Kong's worst political crisis. If that does happen, despite denials, it would be nothing more than a cosmetic reboot of the old puppet show which Hongkongers have already rejected with mass protest marches and petrol bombs.
It is a cruel fact that most Hongkongers consider Lam a puppet doing Beijing's bidding instead of accurately reflecting the people’s views to her bosses. Since the crisis erupted over her now-dead extradition bill, everything she has done proves rather than disproves that fact. She has not demonstrated in any way that she is on the side of the people or dares to stand up to her bosses.
Instead, she and her Beijing bosses have synced their script to claim external forces are stoking the violence, only a small group supports it, and to repeatedly demand an end to the violence. Demanding an end to violence without giving anything in return puts Hong Kong in a chicken-and-egg situation.
Which should come first – an end to violence or a political path to end it? Lam triggered the violence. Since it started five months ago, almost 3,000 protesters have been arrested, most of them students and young people. They have risked jail and sacrificed futures in the belief that only violent protests can protect their freedoms.
What has Lam done to change that belief? Nothing. Instead, she has called them rioters who must face the full force of the law. Her masters have called the protesters thugs in cahoots with the West to blunt China's rise. Beijing has used this unproven claim of foreign interference to further tighten the puppet strings.
Most Hongkongers know the decision to ban democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung from upcoming district council elections was not made by a lowly government official. It was made at the top after Beijing pulled the puppet strings to send a message that Wong and other activists like him can never be election candidates.

How can violence end when, instead of providing a political path to end it, Lam and her bosses prove through the banning of Wong from elections that the fear of lost freedoms that feed the violence is very real?

We are at a stage where replacing Lam is pointless. Anyone Beijing trusts to succeed Lam will be seen by Hongkongers as just another puppet. Remember when the opposition came up with the slogan “ anyone but CY Leung”? They got Lam, who is now seen as even more of a puppet. That is why the opposition is no longer demanding Lam be replaced.
What needs replacing is not the chief executive but the political system. Anything short of that will not defuse the time bomb Hong Kong has become. Lam and her bosses are deluding themselves by believing the street anger will eventually fizzle out and things will return to normal.

Best way to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy is through democratic reform

I have said before that the old normal is gone. Lam needs to show she is on the side of Hongkongers by daring to tell her bosses we need a new normal. That new normal requires a loosening of the puppet strings, genuine democratic elections, and ending the insidious mainlandisation of Hong Kong.

I do not know if Lam, who is a Catholic, still goes to church, and if she does, what she prays for. I hope she prays for the many hundreds of arrested young protesters. And I hope she prays for the strength to tell her bosses that, unless they stop eroding Hong Kong's autonomy, the puppet show will definitely end in a Greek tragedy.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host