(An open letter to Mr Luo Huining)
Dear Mr Luo,
A very warm welcome to Hong Kong.
It must have been quite a shock to be posted as the new head of the Central People’s Government’s Liaison Office here. After all, just a week before you had been named as the new deputy director of the financial and economic affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, a position normally given to retiring officials of your rank. The sudden switch from a relatively tranquil post to a political hot seat is quite a change, especially at such short notice.
I hope you won’t mind if I, as a 47-year resident of Hong Kong, offer a few suggestions for how to take our community forward into a peaceful, stable and prosperous future. Since I have lived virtually all my adult life here, and have no plans to ever leave, I have a powerful personal interest in your success.
I don’t know if your predecessor, Wang Zhimin, had time to write some handover notes before he left since he departed rather hurriedly. If he did, my first suggestion would be to quietly dispose of them in the office shredding machine. His mis-reading of the local situation was so complete there could be no wisdom there.
In similar vein, and with much regret, I must also advise caution with respect to the briefing you will get from the incumbent administration. After all, these are the very people who brought upon our city the biggest political disaster in decades. They will be keen to spread the blame to many other parties, particularly if they can find a foreign angle, in order to minimise their own culpability. But it is important to remember that they pressed ahead with the extradition legislation despite all the warnings from patriots here, and friends of China. The famously conservative General Chamber of Commerce, virtually all the international chambers of commerce, legal professional bodies, many other respectable groups of professionals, some one million of ordinary middle-class citizens marching peacefully on 9 June, all urged a pause and a re-think. These people are not radical anti-China elements, they are the bedrock of Hong Kong society. But the government would not listen to them.
And I am afraid all the signs are that no lessons have been learned. If you read the letter the chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, sent to the diplomatic community here recently, or listen to the radio broadcast “Letter to Hong Kong” from chief secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung two weeks ago, you will realise they are living in a parallel universe. They mention the successful organisation of the District Council elections, without acknowledging the results were an emphatic vote of no confidence in the administration. The work of the Independent Police Complaints Council is lauded, despite its complete lack of credibility following withdrawal of the foreign experts. Big things are promised for the Independent Review Committee, except no one of stature can be found to chair it because of the limited powers it will have. There are no references to resuming the political reform process, or considering establishment of an independent commission of inquiry, the two key demands of the community. In other words, no attempt at all to engage in meaningful dialogue essential to achieving a political solution and ending the current crisis.
Lam and Cheung are truly the Bourbons of the 21st century. Their removal from office is a necessary, but not by itself sufficient, condition of restoring social order.
You will hear much murmuring about foreign involvement in the Hong Kong protests. There is some basis to this but it is important to distinguish between how the trouble started, and how it later developed. The origin of the turmoil was unquestionably the mishandling by the local administration of a very sensitive subject. Once the tidal wave of opposition had been launched, China’s strategic competitors naturally surfed it to gain maximum advantage.
In addition to foreign countries, the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan milked the situation for all it was worth. A year ago Tsai Ing-wen’s political career was virtually over. By the time you read this she will almost certainly have been re-elected as leader of the island.
It would be very easy to be misled on the question of “independence”. There is no serious or substantial movement in support of the idea. Discussion of it is mostly idle chatter by immature youth. The waving of the British and American flags by some protesters is deliberate provocation trying to induce a disproportionate response from the local authorities. My advice is not to be fooled.
The vast majority of Hong Kong people are very proud of their city, and their country. However there have been points of friction in the relationship between Hongkongers and mainlanders, and poor handling of the issues has contributed to public dissatisfaction. For example, the spouses and children of Hong Kong people who were in the mainland in 1997 must all by now have been admitted for family reunion. Why does there still need to be a quota of 150 per day? Why does Hong Kong have no say in selection of who should come, irrespective of the size of the quota? The situation with respect to parallel goods traders has been very badly handled, causing unnecessary friction. Setting aside a dedicated area for bulk purchase of the most popular commodities was a good idea, but implementation was too slow and half-hearted. There are other examples.
My last piece of advice is to consult widely, and outside the normal circles. Get the broadest possible feedback. Then report back to Beijing discreetly on your findings. Hong Kong’s value to the rest of China is in its differences and a way has to be found to preserve these while making sure we are not a base for subversion. Above all, try to refrain from frequent public comments on what should come next. That will be the job of our new local chief executive.