Beijing shirks HK responsibility

    By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipai Times  2022.3.30

During last year’s celebrations in Beijing to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) boasted that Beijing had gained full administrative control over Hong Kong and said this would “guarantee the territory’s long-term stability and prosperity.”

Predictably, at the postponed “patriots only” legislative election in December last year, pro-Beijing flunkies wiped the board, taking every available seat. Xi had chalked up a major win: “anti-China elements” would no longer cause chaos in Hong Kong and “obstruct the territory’s transition to stability and prosperity.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China and spread around the world, has boomeranged to its point of origin, and China’s gateway to the world, Hong Kong, is bearing the brunt of the fresh wave of infections and has experienced a dramatic rise in case numbers.

In an indication of panic, Xi issued direct instructions via Hong Kong media — rather than through the conventional route of party-aligned central media based in Beijing — and ordered Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (林鄭月娥) administration to take “bulk responsibility” for the crisis.

Having assumed complete administrative control over the Hong Kong government, it is a bit rich for Xi to now shirk all responsibility for dealing with the pandemic, and dump the responsibility on Lam’s lap. This is perhaps why Xi’s top policy adviser and chief spin doctor Wang Huning (王滬寧) invented the phrase “bulk responsibility” (zhuti zeren, 主體責任) — but what does it mean? As the phrase contains the characters for “main” (zhu, 主) and “body” (ti, 體), it implies that Lam must assume “primary responsibility” (zhuyao zeren, 主要責任) and “entire responsibility” (quanti zeren, 全體責任).

The newly coined phrase allows Beijing to abrogate responsibility for the health crisis in Hong Kong, despite having given itself “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory, with the imposition of national security legislation in June 2020.

The outbreak peaked in Hong Kong just as the curtain was lifting on the CCP’s annual conference and national decisionmaking forums in Beijing, known colloquially as the “two meetings.”

The situation in Hong Kong was so serious that its medical system was on the brink of collapse and it was impossible to obtain accurate information on the number of confirmed cases in the territory. Conflicting news reports have estimated that daily confirmed cases peaked somewhere between 50,000 and 77,000 on March 2 and 3.

Amid the chaos, some elderly Hong Kongers were simply left to die in care homes, and in extreme cases, elderly patients and dead bodies were placed side by side in the same wards — a situation described by one doctor as resembling “a battlefield strewn with corpses.”

Hong Kong’s excellent medical system was reduced to the level of Wuhan’s at the outset of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the latest data show that the number of daily confirmed cases in the territory has fallen to about 10,000.

This month, Lam announced that her government would implement a mainland-style system of “hard quarantine” measures, which triggered a backlash from Hong Kongers.

Why is opposition to the “hard quarantine” measures so strong? Because, to rapidly ramp up testing for the virus, health workers combined the specimens of 10 individuals in a single reagent tube. This meant that if one person’s specimen tested positive, the entire group of 10 people were forced into quarantine.

Like on the mainland, Hong Kong’s “zero COVID-19” policy has involved canceling flights from many countries, causing major headaches for businesses and multinational companies.

Although, unlike China, Lam did not dare to seal residents in their own homes and leave them to die, her administration did force Hong Kongers to take Chinese-developed vaccines, as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, produced under license in China — both of which many Hong Kongers simply do not trust.

Hong Kong’s vaccine program also involves people’s personal data being sent to mainland China, further eroding trust.

For these reasons, many Hong Kongers have declined vaccination. As of last month, only about 58 percent of Hong Kongers aged 70 or above had had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 70 percent aged 80 or above had not had a first dose.

According to analysis by medical experts, as many as half of Hong Kongers have been infected with COVID-19, to the extent that the territory’s residents should now be able to “coexist” with the virus. It is a graphic representation of the total failure of Beijing’s “zero COVID-19” policy.

To offload the central government’s responsibility for the debacle, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Xia Baolong (夏寶龍) provided a new interpretation of “comprehensive jurisdiction” following the conclusion of the “two meetings” in Beijing.

According to Xia, “comprehensive jurisdiction” does not supplant Hong Kong’s government. Instead, Beijing would provide Hong Kong with “guidance” on “certain matters” in a timely manner, which it hopes the Hong Kong authorities would firmly implement.

Fourteen years ago, then-Hong Kong Liaison Office director of research Cao Erbao (曹二寶) published an article for the CCP’s Central Party School suggesting the establishment of a parallel executive branch of government in Hong Kong, staffed by non-Hong Kong residents, to provide policy “guidance.”

Since Cao penned the article, Beijing has had the final say over the affairs of Hong Kong, and members of the territory’s pro-Beijing establishment have become nothing more than compliant sock puppets. It is absurd that Beijing is attempting to dodge responsibility for Hong Kong’s botched pandemic response.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Edward Jones


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