Beijing must reassess Hong Kong situation as pro-democracy camp wins big, analysts say

Gary Cheung

The results of Sunday’s historic district council elections in Hong Kong should set alarm bells ringing in Beijing and among local government officials, analysts said.

While the central government earlier urged Hong Kong officials to proceed with the elections after more than five months of anti-government protests and was prepared for a harsh outcome, now it may have to wrestle with changing course in its handling of the city.

Former secretary for transport and housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said Beijing would have to rethink its approach to ending the mayhem in the city as the pro-establishment camp got a drubbing.

One avenue is to seriously consider options, such as holding an inquiry into all aspects of the fallout from the unrest, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

He said both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps viewed this year’s district council elections as a political battle, not the usual contest over livelihood issues.

His views were shared by City University political scientist Ray Yep Kin-man, who said the Beijing-friendly camp was expected to pay a heavy price for supporting the government to press ahead with the contentious extradition bill which could have led to fugitives being sent to mainland China, among other jurisdictions.

He said Beijing would have to decide whether to sack Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, says the Beijing-friendly camp was expected to pay a heavy price for supporting the government to press ahead with the contentious extradition bill. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The stunning turnout and results showed the determination of Hong Kong people of different political persuasions to have their voice heard, he added.

The citywide polls were widely viewed as a barometer of support for the protest movement and the government. The turnout not only surpassed that of the 2015 district council polls, but also that of 2003, when elections were held four months after a 500,000-strong march forced the government to withdraw a draft of national security legislation, commonly known as Article 23.

In the 2003 election, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) suffered a humiliating defeat, securing just 62 of the 206 seats it contested. The Democratic Party won 95 of the 120 seats it contested.

The DAB merged with the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance in 2005 to form Hong Kong’s largest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Cheung said while Beijing had emphasised the need to stop the violence in Hong Kong, it should now seize the opportunity to adjust its approach.

Sensible Beijing officials should have a good grasp of public sentiment in Hong Kong after the election results

Anthony Cheung, former secretary for transport and housing

“I disagree with the notion that the central government is ready to see the demise of Hong Kong,” he said.

“Sensible Beijing officials should have a good grasp of public sentiment in Hong Kong after the election results, while the central government should go beyond stopping violence through the action of Hong Kong police.”

He believed Beijing would see the need to adjust its policies in the wake of Sunday’s election results, and appointing a commission of inquiry was a feasible option to address the demands of Hong Kong people.

The city’s beleaguered government indicated earlier that it would consider setting up a commission of inquiry only if the public was dissatisfied with the report of the Independent Police Complaints Council, which is looking into the use of force by officers.

What do Hong Kong’s extradition bill protesters really want?

At a meeting with 500 Beijing loyalists in Shenzhen in August, Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, left open the possibility of setting up a commission of inquiry after order was restored.

Beijing may have to rethink its approach to ending the mayhem in the city as the pro-establishment camp got a drubbing. Photo: May Tse

Li Xiaobing, an expert on Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong at Nankai University in Tianjin, also agreed that the central government would need to adjust its assessment of the Hong Kong situation.

“We had hoped for a shift in public opinion as the anti-government protests turned more violent, but it did not happen,” he said. “The central government needs to handle the situation in Hong Kong in a more pragmatic manner.”

Li said Beijing needed to make more of an effort to win the support of Hong Kong people, but he did not think an independent inquiry was an effective way to defuse the crisis.

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