Senior adviser to Beijing lashes out at ‘insufficient’ Hong Kong leadership and warns shake-up may be coming

Natalie Wong

A senior Hong Kong adviser to Beijing has lashed out at local government officials over their handling of anti-government protests and said a major leadership reshuffle was possible to restore legitimacy.

Lau Siu-kai, who is vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, delivered the criticism in an article written in Chinese titled “The deep-rooted problems behind the anti-extradition bill movement” published in the Hong Kong and Macao Journal.

Lau said the abilities and courage of city officials and pro-establishment forces were “obviously insufficient” throughout the protests that erupted in June and morphed into a broad condemnation of the Hong Kong and central governments.

Pro-democracy protesters carry a mock “black” hand written with the number “23”, a reference to national security legislation required under Article 23, on National Day, October 1, 2018. Photo: AP

The bill was finally withdrawn in September but violent demonstrations raged for months, sparking a public demand for an inquiry into the police’s use of force. Some protesters have also staged rallies against the government’s quarantine policies to contain the coronavirus epidemic.

Without naming them, Lau said officials had underestimated the seriousness of the crisis and “many protected their personal interests but failed to take decisive and severe measures to stop the violence as soon as possible”.

“Some officials were not loyal enough to Hong Kong and the central government under the pressure of public opinion and external forces,” he wrote. “What’s more, some dissidents even existed in the government and patriotic forces. Some civil servants blatantly rejected the principle of ‘political neutrality’ and became a force against the government.”

Anti-government protesters march through Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on January 1. Photo: Nora Tam

Lau said that despite two decades since the handover, a “new regime” run by patriots that could fully implement the “one country, two systems”, policy, uphold national interests and effectively govern the city had not been established.

Under the policy, Beijing promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy after the city was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Lau also linked the political unrest to a lack of national identity among young people, a result of apathy on the part of some officials and resistance to implementing national education in Hong Kong.

The pro-establishment camp was also to blame, with Lau pointing a finger at some patriots’ “opportunism” that left the government vulnerable and open to repeated attacks by radical opposition forces.

Lau later told the Post senior and junior officials were all accountable for the poor performance of the administration during the anti-government protests and said a shake-up of top officials could not be ruled out.

“Reshuffling is just one step to help restore the fragile balance between authoritarianism and freedom in the unique political system here,” he said. “Many more tasks have to be done promptly in the eyes of Beijing.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the media on January 7, saying she would stay in office to tackle public health and economic challenges. Photo: May Tse

Lau referred to the introduction of national security legislation, which falls under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, strengthening national education and bolstering the capabilities of law enforcement, among others.

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Lau’s criticism reflected Beijing’s obvious dissatisfaction with the abilities of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in leading the administration.

“But a major leadership reshuffle will only happen when Beijing thinks it’s the best time to fit President Xi Jinping’s interests,” he said.

The observer said keeping Lam in office could prove beneficial to Beijing during the Covid-19 outbreak, by directing public anger over the handling of the epidemic towards Hong Kong’ leadership rather than the central government.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a lawmaker belonging to the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said Lau’s observations were widely shared by the pro-establishment camp.

“Some of our comrades were indeed not firm enough in their stance against protest violence in order to avoid controversies,” Leung said. “This is a fair criticism.”

She hoped Lam’s administration would reflect on its poor performance in handling the protests and response to the coronavirus outbreak and improve governance.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, chairman of the Civic Party, said Lau’s comments reflected Lam’s unpopularity among the pro-establishment camp, who viewed her as a liability in the upcoming Legislative Council elections in September.

But he said no matter what happened to Lam in the coming months, it would make no difference to the outcome of the vote.

“People in Hong Kong have awoken in the months-long movement,” Leong said. “They will not be satisfied by simply replacing a puppet in the play without the freedoms and human rights they deserve.”

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