A leaked recording of a closed-door speech by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hit the headlines worldwide on Sept. 2. Lam gave a 30-minute talk to a group of business people, in which she said that, if she had a choice she would apologize and resign. She also shared Beijing’s views and decisions in regards to the Hong Kong protests.
In a Sept. 3 interview with the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times, Stephen Shiu Yeuk-yuen, a senior political commentator and media professional in Hong Kong, pointed out that the leak could well be a self-serving drama through which top leaders in Beijing tried to convey their message to the public.
Millions of Hongkongers have taken to the streets every weekend since June to protest an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China for trial. The bill sparked fears that Hong Kong citizens, foreigners living in Hong Kong, and even people passing through Hong Kong’s airport could be arrested and sent to mainland China, where the legal system fails to guarantee a fair trial.
Angered by Hong Kong leaders’ repeated refusal to withdraw the bill and by the excessive use of police force, the protesters have since pushed for greater democracy for the city, as well as an independent commission to investigate instances of police violence.
It was in the 12th week of mass protests and escalating clashes between police and protesters that Lam’s closed-door talk was leaked to Reuters.
Shiu said that with regard to who leaked the audio recording to Reuters, there are only two possibilities. One is that someone in the audience recorded Lam’s talk secretly. The other is that Lam leaked the audio recording herself and pretended that someone else did it.
Shiu believes that Lam did it herself.
“An audio leak happened before when she last chatted with a group of young people. Someone recorded her talk and publicized it. She thus had all the more reason to be extremely cautious. It is hard to imagine that she would make the same mistake again just one week later,” Shiu explained.
“In addition, she was speaking in English this time, so she must have been speaking to business elites, such as top executives at HSBC and Taikoo. How could these people dare to risk offending Lam and Beijing by leaking the recording? That is highly doubtful. I don’t think this group of people would do such a thing. They always take the safest path.”
Shiu added that the quality of the audio recording is very good, which supports his opinion.
“If you were to record our interview here with a recorder in your pocket, the sound quality would be very different from having the recorder right in front of me,” he said.
If it was indeed Lam who leaked the audio, what’s the reason behind it? In Shiu’s opinion, there are again two possibilities—either Lam decided to reveal certain information herself, or Beijing instructed her to do so.
The likelihood of the latter is much higher, according to Shiu.
“If Lam did not have approval from Beijing and intentionally leaked the audio herself, it would be a disastrous mistake. The consequence would be as serious as when former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang revealed to the public that Deng Xiaoping, although retired, was still in control of major decisions. Lam would not take such bold risks,” Shiu said.
Why would Beijing refuse to let Lam resign? Shiu believes that the Hong Kong police is actually under the control of Beijing, and Lam serves as a buffer. When Lam relays Beijing’s orders, she acts as if all these orders are her own decisions.
“The authorities refused to meet the protesters’ five demands, and ordered the police to do such and such. All these acts can be blamed on Hong Kong leaders. If Lam resigns, Beijing will have to face the blame itself,” Shiu said.
Beijing Will Not Resort to PLA Deployment or Emergency Law
During the closed-door meeting, Lam hinted that Beijing has three bottom lines:
1. China has “absolutely no plans” to deploy the People Liberation Army (PLA) troops on Hong Kong streets.
2. Beijing does not have a deadline; it does not expect to end the crisis ahead of Oct. 1, China’s National Day.
3. Beijing does not care about Hong Kong’s economic or financial losses during this prolonged standoff.
Shiu pointed out that very likely it was Chinese leader Xi Jinping who instructed Lam to convey these points. “Of course, Lam may have added some personal input,” he said.
In addition to having “no plan” to deploy the PLA in Hong Kong, Shiu believes that Beijing would not implement the Emergency Law either.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance is a law introduced by the British in 1922 that gives the city’s authorities broad powers similar to martial law.
This colonial-era statute can be invoked in case of an emergency or public danger, and allows the chief executive to make “any regulations whatsoever that he/she may consider desirable in the public interest.” Its provisions include arrests, property seizures, deportation, control of the ports and transportation, and censorship.
“It would be an awful strategy to invoke the Emergency Ordinance, because the Emergency Ordinance cannot override the Basic Law,” Shiu explained. “There are specific articles in the Basic Law regarding a state of emergency. Why would you bypass the Basic Law and implement a century-old statute? That sounds very ridiculous.”
A Protracted Battle
Shiu pointed out that the future direction for Hong Kong protesters will be a protracted battle with Beijing, as the central authorities do not expect to resolve the unrest before Oct. 1.
He predicted that Beijing’s National Day celebrations in Hong Kong will be low profile.
“It will likely be held at a secret, obscure place so that protesters won’t be able to go and besiege it. Beijing will also block the flow of information inside China so mainland Chinese won’t know that the authorities have to celebrate the National Day in Hong Kong discreetly,” he said.
At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won’t allow mainland tourists to go to Hong Kong anymore, Shiu said. And this seems to be the case already. A friend of Shiu’s in mainland China could not get a visa to visit Hong Kong. When his friend applied online, a notification said: “Server is down. We don’t know when the problems will be fixed.”
The Hong Kong police recently launched a round of mass searches and arrests. According to Shiu, that is precisely how Beijing controls people. However, the situation in Hong Kong won’t be as miserable as it gets in mainland China, he said.
“[In China,] when the police come to arrest you, you will be missing for a couple of years. Even your family won’t know where you are detained. That is the usual practice in China. But the Basic Law of Hong Kong requires that the suspect has the right to bail within 48 hours of an apprehension,” Shiu said.
The CCP Doesn’t Dare to Ruin Hong Kong
Shiu said that Hong Kong is extremely important to Beijing because the CCP’s livelihood depends on Hong Kong.
“Even in the Mao Zedong era [when all social problems were resolved through violent campaigns], the CCP did not dare to reclaim Hong Kong. China’s plan for Hong Kong is to make full use of this special region for a long time,” Shiu said.
“For instance, many of the CCP’s ultra-rich officials and their families hide their assets in Hong Kong. In addition, from the beginning of 2018 to June of this year, China has acquired more than $70 billion in direct overseas investment, and more than $50 billion came through Hong Kong. When China makes investments in other countries, the money goes through Hong Kong first, because Chinese authorities feel more comfortable having Hong Kong organizations manage the funds, as they have sufficient control over Hong Kong.”
Epoch Times reporter Liang Zhen contributed to this report.