Tam reveals key border message

Editorial | Mary Ma 18 Oct 2021

Tam Yiu-chung could have maintained a lower profile over a Beijing directive that bars him - the city's sole representative on the National People's Congress Standing Committee - from flying to Beijing to attend a meeting this week.

That he did the opposite has helped to dramatize an episode that otherwise few people would have noticed.

The drama has helped drive home a message that Tam has since sought to stress.

The delegate had been due to leave the SAR today for a session of the top legislative body from tomorrow to Saturday, but he was told on Friday that he would not be welcome in the capital this time allegedly due to the pandemic situation in Hong Kong.

It's not the first time he was asked not to go. Tam revealed the last time he was similarly advised was in August when the standing committee met to discuss a proposal to extend the mainland's anti-sanctions law to Hong Kong.

The proposal was discussed and held back.

Tam said he ignored the "advice" and insisted on going. No one in the public would have known about the no-go advice in August if he had not revealed it now.

Had Tam wished to, he could have easily avoided the drama over his upcoming absence by simply telling the media he was not obliged to go this time since there was no Hong Kong-related business on the agenda. Then, everything would have continued as usual.

Instead, he purposefully drew a connection between the ban and Hong Kong's pandemic control, referring to the risk posed by a single local case whose source the government had been unable to trace.

At the weekend, Tam went further to mention a need to adopt in Hong Kong the mainland's health-code system that records one's history of movements.

The SAR government has been keen to reopen its border with the mainland so that those traveling from Hong Kong are spared lengthy quarantine isolation over there.

However, government officials have been silent on what is holding up the progress.

It's now clearer. Although the SAR side has made a number of proposals on how a Hong Kong health code might align with the mainland's, all the proposals have fallen short of Beijing's demands because the city's health-code system is voluntary - not recording people's movement history in the SAR - as opposed to the mainland's mandatory approach.

It is probable that mainland officials, especially those in Guangdong, are concerned that this could become a loophole in their system of pandemic control.

Meanwhile, the incidents of an untraceable local case earlier this month and a Russian diplomat recently testing positive while self-isolating at home instead of quarantining at a designated hotel have complicated the ongoing discussion despite the stable situation achieved here.

With Beijing expected to uphold its strict zero-Covid infection policy between now and the Winter Olympics due to be held in the capital in February, it is pessimistic that the mainland will reopen its border to quarantine-free travel from Hong Kong any time soon.

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