Rise and fall in tale of two systems

Editorial | Mary Ma 2 Oct 2019

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times, and what better illustration of that Dickensian heaven and hell than the stark difference between events in Beijing and Hong Kong yesterday that raise profoundly disturbing questions about the state of one country, two systems.

The hellish part of that dichotomy saw a school boy shot in live gunfire in Tsuen Wan. Doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital were fighting last night to save his life.

The shooting was the worst escalation of events so far and an accident waiting to happen as the police-protest vicious circle gathered increasing momentum with the passing of each weekend.

Police had on Monday predicted yesterday would be the worst day of protests since they first broke out in June in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed Hongkongers to be handed over to the mainland.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's decision to join the celebrations in Beijing reflected none of the vision that Hong Kong needs as the summer of discontent threatens to turn into a winter of despair.

She should have stayed back to steer the SAR through its worst of times, and that should have been abundantly clear in the message that the police sent out to all and sundry on Monday.

Instead, she left that all important task to Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, when he has had a famously tense relationship with the police over his earlier apologies for the force's actions.

As Hong Kong's second in command, wouldn't it have been more appropriate for Cheung to stand in for what was, to all appearances, a largely ceremonial role?

After all, it was most unlikely that President Xi Jinping would have begrudged Lam had she been absent in Beijing, given that only the most naive would not have expected protesters to turn out in force yesterday to spoil the party for one of the biggest days in the mainland calendar.

Xi had, after all in the wake of Lam's election as chief executive in 2017, emphasized major expectations for her administration: first, for her and her officials to repay the nation wholeheartedly, and it would be a shame for someone to avoid facing those duties that are difficult; and commitment, from top to bottom, in striving for achievement.

More than two years on, Xi is probably feeling more than a little disappointed.

As Xi marked the 70th national day, he reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to upholding one country, two systems without making any reference to protests here.

Clearly, he wanted Lam to be able to end the unrest triggered by her ill-conceived bill.

Yet, I'm also concerned by a Reuters report that quoted diplomats as saying the People's Liberation Army has more than doubled its presence here, from 3,000 to 5,000 several months ago to between 10,000 and 12,000 at present, including a number of paramilitary People's Armed Police.

After all, there has been speculation that the People's Armed Police had been involved in local police operations?

Lam may have been hoping to resolve the conflict with townhall dialogues, which has seen only slow progress.

The question is: will Beijing be willing to wait indefinitely for the Lam administration to end the unrest?

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