To quit or not to quit, that's the question

Editorial | Mary Ma 4 Sep 2019

The past weekend was full of intriguing events, with information leaked to foreign media as violent clashes between police and protesters continued. There were rumors that some demonstrators may have been killed at Prince Edward MTR Station.

Reuters was the first to report that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had submitted a proposal to Beijing, saying how withdrawing the fugitive amendment bill and ordering an independent inquiry could help defuse the crisis.

Beijing reportedly rejected the suggestion.

Reuters' report was immediately dismissed by Beijing, followed by the SAR government, as fake news - as false as the phone calls US President Donald Trump said he had received from a top figure in Beijing.

Was Reuters' report really fake?

Then a few days later and a little wiser, Reuters published an audio recording as well. Lam could be clearly heard saying the first thing she would do was quit and make a deep apology - if she had a choice - admitting it was unforgiveable to have created such huge havoc in Hong Kong.

Yesterday, Lam insisted she'd never contemplated resigning, but effectively lent credence to the report, as she said her remarks were made at a lunch that was private and exclusive, and how disappointed she felt over the leak.

The leaks were made purposely. But by whom?

It's not the first time a foreign outlet was selected to reveal information that would be too sensitive to disclose locally and officially. Leaking to foreign media would ensure whatever was said would reach both local and foreign audiences first-hand.

There are numerous ways to interpret the incidents - the most popular is Lam probably wanting to shift the pressure to someone else.

However, that would be unlikely to work since young protesters have already drawn an equal sign between her and Beijing.

Then, the leaks may be read differently. As the public was drawn to those few words that "If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit," a few messages in the luncheon speech were not give due attention, if not ignored entirely.

One, Beijing has had no plan to send in the People's Liberation Army, as Zhongnanhai is fearful of the dire consequences that would follow.

Two, Lam wasn't free to offer a political solution to resolve the crisis because the situation has risen to the national level.

And three, Beijing's strategy in handling the crisis, to use Lam's own words in private, was to "play long" so that the police force would continue to be used to stamp out the protests, to allow the SAR to move on to the next phase of "resurrection," and finally, a "reborn" Hong Kong.

This would be the roadmap - or even a state secret. Small wonder Lam in public had to contradict the Lam in private. Shortly after she spoke, the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office convened a press conference to express full support for Hong Kong to handle the crisis on its own.

In other words, people shouldn't blame Beijing.

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