Hong Kong keeps pondering, wondering, what next?

Three days after Sunday’s District Council elections, the high has not yet worn off. Although street protests have started to pick up again, they remain relatively mild. 

However, Hong Kong is no closer to understanding how the central government feels about the way its supposedly loyal candidates were routed. Analysts have weighed in on both sides of the border, and their conclusions mostly state the obvious: a major rethink is needed in how to manage Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong.

Some have said it would be better to give the pro-Beijing parties more leeway in how they relate to the government. Others have said that it is now more possible the next Chief Executive might be someone unacceptable to Beijing, which would likely lead to further crisis if they were rejected and, therefore, Beijing needs to rethink how the CE is elected. 

All agree that something needs to shift.

Putting aside the speculative nature of these prognostications, they are mostly focused on the short term. Movement should not be expected on them anytime soon. 

If a Reuters report is to be believed, the central government has set up some kind of independent crisis-management center in Shenzhen that supposedly bypasses the Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Government spokesmen have, of course, rubbished the report. Understandably so. What is more likely happening in Shenzhen is that a parallel fact-finding operation is being run. Any responsible government would be doing this. But it would be a mistake to assume that Beijing is either confused by what is happening in Hong Kong or is having difficulty seeing its orders carried out through the usual channels. 

Whether there is disagreement among the various stakeholders involved in policymaking on Hong Kong remains to be seen – and probably won’t be seen – but in the meantime, there is likely to be a lot of analysis conducted in Shenzhen on the best way forward. That will need to run its course, and it will surely take some time.

In the meantime, it would be better to focus on what is happening – or, rather, not happening – in Hong Kong to manage its six-month-old political crisis. Two key stories stand out: one indicates how difficult it is to change the way Hong Kong is governed; the other shows the ongoing risks to Hong Kong’s economy and its role within the Greater Bay Area.

The first is worrying in that it shows how difficult it is to address the housing crisis underlying the political crisis. As SCMP reports, lawmakers have raised questions over “technical problems” in relocating industrial operators from 450 hectares of brownfield sites in the northern New Territories, which had been identified by the government to redevelop for public housing. 

Reading this story will help to remind why Hong Kong needed to have its democratic upheaval on Sunday: because the current bunch of elected representatives are clearly uncertain of their mandate at best, or conflicted, at worst. Worrying about the need to take care of the industrial tenants on these sites while there are 200,000 people living in subdivided housing is what only a lawmaker who feels no public accountability would be doing.

The second story illustrates how equally uncertain/weak-kneed those lawmakers’ counterparts in the government are. As per SCMP, officials have pulled HK$250 million in funding proposals for medical teaching facilities at University of Hong Kong and Chinese University after pro-Beijing lawmakers expressed dismay over management’s handling of protests on their campuses. 

These two universities play vital roles in the Greater Bay Area masterplan. Both lawmakers and government officials should be doing everything they can to get them back on track as soon as possible. There are much bigger interests at stake in these facilities, which will play a key role in the region’s development.

These are the kinds of issues the newly elected district leaders should be discussing as they convene their Whatsapp groups and try to figure out what to do with the power that dropped into their laps on Sunday. Getting cracking on land issues in their backyard sounds like something a young, energetic district councilor would relish. University campuses are in their districts; even if they can’t cast votes on their funding, they can rattle their cages when they see nonsensical debates taking place in Legco.

Will they? The chances are slim, as voices are growing among their ranks that suggest “spreading ideology” is the best use their time. But it’s not impossible that an effective coalition could be formed from this group, many of whom are clearly smart, dynamic people. Stay tuned.

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