Plenty of work to get on with

As the Hong Kong protests drag on at the end of a hot and wet summer, it seems like there is a lot of waiting around happening. Protesters are waiting for the government to agree to their demands; the government is waiting for the protesters to stop vandalizing MTR stations; and everyone is waiting for the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to put us all out of her misery by resigning. 

Today, she refused to, despite a leaked recording that clearly shows her at her wits’ end because she can’t get to the hair salon without running into protesters. 

Ok, that is a bit cruel. The embattled CE was having a supposedly private conversation with some business leaders. She was less than fully on her guard. But still. Can there be anyone left in Beijing who thinks she is up to the job? We would not be surprised if betting pools have sprung up around the city’s water-coolers to guess how soon she will leave office. We would put $100 on it being before October 1. 

Behind the scenes, we believe there is likely a lot happening. Ever since The 500 were summoned across the border last month for a fireside chat with the HKMAO Director, Zhang Xiaoming, one has been able to catch glimpses of suggestions that the central government is hard at work coming up with an action plan designed to address the causes of the protests, if not the demands. Or at least some of them. Something is coming.

Anyone working on a plan would have done well to read the opinion pages of the SCMP these past few days. Two columnists’ views stand out: David Rezvani, a US-based academic who specializes in small but rich quasi-city-states, reminding us of what happened after the 2003 upheavals; and Donald Low, a locally employed academic who sees huge opportunity for much-needed economic and political change that fits within Beijing’s boundaries.

Rezvani, being further away, wobbles a bit in places with generalizations, but nevertheless makes an effective case for remembering what the central government got right back in 2003, when Hong Kong had its first major mass protests. In a nutshell, it showed the people of Kong Kong that their leaders would be held accountable; that they would be listened to (bypassing the traditional information-gathering channels); and that economic concerns would be addressed as a matter of urgency. 

Remember that time? Article 23 was withdrawn (not suspended); several officials stepped down, including, eventually, the CE; researchers were sent from Beijing to gather public opinion directly; and measures such as the IVS visas were launched to boost the economy.

Low takes a more measured look at what can be done to assuage protesters while at the same time not going beyond the clear boundaries set by Beijing. He sees room for dumping the hardline market-is-all approach to economic policymaking, offering bright suggestions on how to do it, and he sees lots of room for improvement in political professionalism, never mind universal suffrage. Here is a good quote:

“While specific policy measures in areas such as public housing, retirement financing and health-care provision are urgent and necessary, these should be underpinned by a fundamental rethink of the government’s ideologies and habits (not least their habits of mind).”

Both columns are well worth reading.

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