By Chris Yeung —
Billed as the most important political event of the year in Hong Kong, Chief Executive’s annual Policy Address has almost become a non-event in recent years because of its failure to give pleasant surprises. This year’s, originally scheduled for October 14, had been no exception. Public expectation was low as doubt and cynicism clouded the society.
The annual event, however, hit headlines even before it happened (it didn’t happen, at least for now) when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pulled a Hong Kong-style “October surprise” on her fellow citizens. On Monday, she told a hastily-arranged press conference her speech would be postponed at least by the end of November. No date was given.
She has shown no sense of regret for failing to honour the tradition and, more important, the promise of giving an annual address of the state of the SAR to the people of Hong Kong. At one point at her press conference on Monday, she told reporters not to be so “stubborn” over a fixed delivery date.
She explained that she was told to travel to Beijing later this month to hold talks with the relevant ministries and departments on a series of measures that she has asked the central government for help to revitalise Hong Kong’s economy.
The measures had been submitted to the central authorities, she said, adding she was told the scope of them were so broad that they needed consent from different ministries.
She said she would like to include whatever assistance Beijing offers in her next policy speech so that the public would not feel disappointed. She did not specify what the measures are. But she did say she would have to wait for the “final instructions” from the central authorities before she could fix a date of her speech.
That Mrs Lam decided to break the tradition/promise of giving her annual speech pending her talks with Beijing on a set of “help-Hong Kong” measures is verging on a shameless admission of the incompetence and dearth of ideas of her and her team.
Faced with the worst crisis in decades, the Lam team has failed to rise to the challenge. Instead, they took the easy route knocking on the doors of Beijing.
At her press conference, Mrs Lam went to length to praise the success of the mainland in rebooting the economy following the outbreak of Covid-19.
Her solution to reinvigorate Hong Kong’s economy seems simple: go north, or more specifically, integrate closer with the Greater Bay Area.
It is therefore not surprising that Mrs Lam, soon after she concluded the press conference, led a team of senior officials to travel to Shenzhen to join celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the setting up of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.
President Xi Jinping is currently on a visit in Guangdong. He is scheduled to officiate the celebrations in Shenzhen on Wednesday and give a major speech on the development strategy of Shenzhen.
The writing is on the wall. Hong Kong-Shenzhen cooperation looks certain to be one of the major themes of her delayed policy blueprint, marking another step of the integration of Hong Kong with the neighbouring Guangdong area.
This is despite the growing risk of Hong Kong embracing the mainland in the midst of deepening doubts about the city’s “one country, two systems” political framework.
US President Donald Trump made clear in mid-July Hong Kong “will now be treated the same as mainland China” when he signed an executive order ending the city’s preferential trade treatment. It was followed by a string of new arrangements ranging from transfer of fugitives to travel advice, which have one thing in common, namely Hong Kong being treated the same as the mainland.
The enactment of the national security law for Hong Kong has raised serious doubts in the international community, in particular the Western bloc, about the autonomy and freedoms in the city. The damages to the city with freedoms, autonomy and rule of law are just beginning to surface, casting doubts about the long-term viability of the city.
The Lam administration and Beijing do not seem to care about the depth of doubts about Hong Kong’s strengths including its unique systems and cultures, values and spirit that the Government could tap on to overcome the present challenges.
Devastated by protracted political rivalry and economic shock, the city is desperate in need of leadership that helps unite the divided citizens, inspire confidence and hope for a better tomorrow.
On Monday, Mrs Lam said she is determined to lead the city out of the conundrum. But now that she can only wait until after Beijing gives its blessing to her proposed “back-Hong Kong” measures before an announcement, hopes that she can pull pleasant surprises for Hong Kong are unfounded.