In Hong Kong, it’s steady as she goes

Although Hong Kong’s freshly reinvigorated political opposition camp appears to be headed toward the same hole it has stepped in before, belligerently calling for the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to resign while repeating demands for universal suffrage ASAP, rather than knuckling down to find pragmatic ways to address the city’s governance challenges, and the government has responded in a typically wooden style, too, the outlook for this embattled city appears to be improving. 

Hong Kong is just two days into a big, post-election week. It is hard to escape the feeling that the situation on the streets could be a lot worse than it is. Violence has not returned. Traffic jams are small and sporadic. And even though the main political actors are talking past each other, they are making some encouraging noises.

Lam, for her part, has indicated she wants to improve and extend the government’s consultation process with society. The central government, meanwhile, has clearly been restrained in its reaction to the results of Sunday’s District Council Elections. Most importantly, no formal judgment has been forthcoming, yet, from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the High Court’s rule-of-law issue. This is despite – or, even better, perhaps, due to – the way Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma spoke back to it on Sunday. 

Lam could have done better. She didn’t need to give media the headlines they craved by responding to taunts. It doesn’t matter whether Beijing has decided to hold her accountable for the election results. It makes no difference whether she has previously addressed the Five Demands. She could have parried these questions and focused on a message of dialogue. But to be fair, it is too soon for her or anyone else to be saying anything of substance. The policymaking apparatus in Beijing needs to buy itself some time.

So far, so good. Nothing needs to happen in a rush now. The political ground is shifting. Stay tuned.

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