Beijing wants Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to clear her own mess, analysts say

Hong Kong has been plagued with protests for two months, many of which ended in clashes between the police and protesters. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG - The absence of any offer of concrete measures to handle the crisis in Hong Kong by Beijing hints at the central government's view that Chief Executive Carrie Lam has to clean up her own mess, analysts said.

Associate professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told The Straits Times on Tuesday (July 30) that Beijing still respects the "one country, two systems" principle and has no legitimate reason to intervene in Hong Kong matters, particularly in the light of the ongoing disputes between China and the United States, and Taiwan's elections in January.

"Beijing's position is very simple - 'I just recognise the things done by the Hong Kong government and the police force," he said, adding that Monday's rare briefing in Beijing by the Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) is tailored for the mainland Chinese audience.

Among the key messages were China's emphasis that it will not allow foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong affairs and that the radical protesters are sponsored by foreign influences, said Prof Wu.

In its Tuesday editorial, Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily News said the most important message from Beijing is that it still believes that Hong Kong can handle the crisis.

This will temporarily ease the need to deploy the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to quell the unrest or to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong, the paper said.

"The Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office did not say that the central government will lend a hand, nor did it instruct the Hong Kong government on what measures to employ, so the Hong Kong government should use the space for manoeuvre wisely to turn the political situation around and show society the way out of this stalemate," the editorial noted.

It added that an independent inquiry into the crisis is the Hong Kong government's best bet to break the impasse.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of Beijing's top think tank on Hong Kong, believes that the central government thinks the situation in Hong Kong can be managed.

In an interview on Tuesday with public broadcaster RTHK, the vice-president of Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies said: "We are not talking about territory-wide uprising reaching a big turmoil in Hong Kong and making it impossible for the government to maintain law and order."

"We are only seeing a small number of violent people, going from one place to the other to challenge the police and create conflict," Mr Lau said, adding that the chances of Beijing roping in the PLA are very slim.

Such a move will be viewed by the West as the end of the "one country, two systems" principle, which is detrimental to the prestige of Hong Kong and Beijing, he added.

At the news briefing by HKMAO,spokesman Yang Guang stated the Chinese government's firm support of Hong Kong's embattled leader, whose popularity is at an all-time low, and the police force.

In a strongly worded defence of the Hong Kong authorities , he said "Hong Kong cannot afford to have instability", but did not offer any specific solutions on how to resolve the months of protests against the city's extradition Bill.

"If Hong Kong continues to be chaotic, the whole society will have to pay the price," said Mr Yang, who added: "Violence is violence, violation of law is violation of law. There is no justification."

Protest organisers have rejected the remarks, calling it "a waste of time", while pan-democratic lawmakers said Beijing's "condescending" comments were a "worrying development" which would only serve to fan the flames in Hong Kong.

Associate professor Dixon Sing of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was surprised by what he said was Beijing's lack of a concrete stance on the matter.

But he believes Beijing's emphasis on the rule of law and the importance of combating violence suggests that the Hong Kong government and police may resort to a more hardline approach to break up the protest movement.

Prof Sing said there are messages circulating online from anonymous civil servants, who said the government will act swiftly against the protesters by charging them with rioting.

"In the short run, there will be an internal struggle among the protesters on whether they will further radicalise. Internally, they will be more polarised," he noted. "Some will resort to stepping up tactics like pushing for labour strikes, others think it's time to ease up on actions as they don't see a point in having a lot of young protesters arrested, severely injured or jailed."

Hong Kong has been plagued with protests for two months, many of which ended in clashes between the police and protesters. Dozens have been injured and arrested in the unrest that was sparked by Mrs Lam's move to amend the extradition laws.

The extradition Bill, now suspended, would have allowed Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions including Taiwan and the mainland. But a significant number of Hong Kongers argue that mainland China's courts are opaque and fear they will not have a fair trial there.

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