2016 in a glance: A year of disputes and turmoils

From Fishball Revolution to ‘Oathgate’ saga and to CY Leung announcing not to seek re-election, 2016 has proven to be an eventful year right from the start to the very end.


January

Bookseller Saga

Lee Bo, a majority shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, became the fifth person who has connection with the bookstore and vanished in January. Hong Kong Police later confirmed Lee’s presence in the mainland. The incident sparked a series of protests and became a major concern of foreign governments’ over Beijing allegedly breaching the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.

HKU Council Meeting Besieged

More than 200 students and protesters besieged the University of Hong Kong Council meeting on 26 January at around 8pm after being informed that the Council only agreed to set up a new committee to review the university’s governing structure and administration. Arthur Li, the newly appointed council chairman who is known for his authoritative style of governance, was the main target of the protesters.

Hong Kong Hit by Lowest Temperature since 1957

The Hong Kong Observatory’s headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui recorded 3.1 degree C on 24 January at 3:45pm, the lowest since 1957 and the third lowest in recorded history. The Education Bureau announced that classes of kindergartens, schools for children with physical disability, schools for children with intellectual disability and primary schools would be suspended the day after as the temperature remained unprecedentedly low. This was the first time class suspension was announced in Hong Kong owing to cold weather

 

February

Fishball Revolution

The ‘Fishball Revolution’ broke out at midnight of 9 February. Protesters were initially rallying in support of hawkers running their business in Chinese New Year, with violence escalated at around 2am after a police officer fired two warning gunshots followed by protesters throwing bricks at police officers. A total of 90 protesters, including Edward Leung and Ray Wong, leaders of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, were arrested by police.

Alvin Yeung wins LegCo By-Election

Civic Party retained the LegCo seat left by its former member Ronny Tong as Alvin Yeung claimed victory in the New Territories East by-election with 160,880 votes while his main opponent, Holden Chow of DAB, got 150,329 votes. Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung and pro-democracy independent Christine Fong came third and fourth of the poll, winning 66,524 votes and 33,424 votes respectively.

 

March

Government Backs Down on Copyright Bill

After a month of fierce filibustering back several pan-democrat lawmakers, the government decided to bring down the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 to make way for other more important items. Often dubbed ‘Internet Article 23’ by opponents, the bill has sparked fear over the government attempting to extend its control over derivative works on the Internet.

LegCo Passes Extra Funding for High-Speed Rail

The controversial HKD19.6 billion extra funding for Hong Kong’s high-speed rail link project was passed in the LegCo Finance Committee on 11 March despite most pan-democrat lawmakers getting away from their seats protesting against the way Finance Committee acting chairman Chan Kam-lam curbed the filibustering.

 

April

First Family Accused of Abusing ‘Transcendent’ Power in Luggage Incident

CY Leung’s family was accused of abusing their ‘transcendent’ power in the Hong Kong International Airport as Leung Chung-yan, the CE’s younger daughter, was allowed to get back her luggage which she left behind after entering the departure zone without herself having to go through all the procedures for departure again in March. Despite the CE, the Civil Aviation Department and the Airport Authority repeated attempts to defended the incident, some 2,500 eventually participated in a sit-in protest in the Hong Kong airport.

Dystopian Film “Ten Years” Crowned Best Film

Dystopian film “Ten Years” won the ‘Best Film’ award at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards. It was announced beforehand that the film awards would not be shown in the mainland, due to the controversial film being nominated. When delivering the opening notes for the ‘Best Film’ award himself, Chairman of the Hong Kong Film Awards, Derek Yee, said there were difficulties to look for a guest to present the award, quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt and said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Hong Kong Named in Panama Papers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) reported that Hong Kong topped the list of offshore destination for financial intermediaries working with Mossack Fonseca to help its clients dodge taxes. HSBC and its affiliates reportedly set up more than 2,300 offshore companies for its clients, while a considerable number of Hong Kong political and business figures or their associates, including property tycoons Li Ka-shing and Lee Shau-kee, political leaders Lau Wong-fat, Michael Tien and Bernard Chan, as well current and former government officials Henry Tang and Paul Chan, as well as some descendants of Beijing officials were identified in the documents.

 

May

Zhang Dejiang Appeases Pan-Democrats in Three Day Visit

Zhang Dejaing, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, arrived in Hong Kong on 17 May for a three-day visit. Upon arrival in the city, Zhang said the main focus of his visit would be to “see, listen and speak.” CY Leung was the target when four pan-dem representatives, namely Emily Lau, Cyd Ho, Alan Leong and Joseph Lee passed their views on the city’s governance to the state official. Zhang, meanwhile, put a positive spin on continued dialogue with pan-dems as he concluded the visit.

The visit, however, was less positive from the perspective of road users amid chaotic traffic, including congestion at the Western Harbour Tunnel and Zhang Dejiang and his crews travelling in the wrong direction when heading to the Science Park.

 

June

Split Over Annual June 4 Vigil

Approximately 125,000 attended this year’s candlelight vigil in commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre, down from last year’s 135,000 and the lowest figure since 2009 as the Hong Kong Federation of Students previously declared its formal withdrawal from the event. Alternatively the June 4 commemoration events were held at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong featuring localist leaders including Edward Leung, Baggio Leung and Chan Ho-tin together with prominent political commentators such as Chip Tsao and Lee Yee in discussions concerning Hong Kong’s future.

Renewed Bookseller Saga Amid Lam Wing-kee’s Return

Lam Wing-kee, one of the five ‘missing’ booksellers who returned to Hong Kong on 14 June, eight months after his disappearance, said he was “forced” by Chinese agents into a confession of “illegal trading.” Assisted by veteran Democrat Albert Ho, Lam said he was held by a “special team” of the Central Government when he was in Shenzhen and that he was told by Lee Bo that the latter was abducted by the mainland authorities when in Hong Kong. A few days later, about 6,000 people joined a march to the Liaison Office in support of Lam.

Deadly Ngau Tau Kok Fire in Mini-Storage Premise

An industrial building in a blaze in Ngau Tau Kok was distinguished 108 hours after it started at 11am on 21 June. The fire took the lives of two firefighters and prompted the government to inspect all self-storage (or mini-storage) premises in Hong Kong. About a third of these premises were found breaching safety regulation following inspections of 756 premises.

 

July

Localists Groups Call Off 1 July Rally Outside Liaison Office

A planned localist protest outside the Liaison Office following the annual 1 July march was cancelled amid intense police security measures in the surrounding area. Meanwhile, pepper spray was used at least twice outside the Government House against about 100 protesters led by LSD, People Power and Demosisto.

The annual march itself was generally peaceful except some minor disruptions by pro-independence activists and quarrels between participants and localists.

ICAC Senior Personnel Change Raises Concerns

Acting head of the ICAC’s Operations Department Rebecca Li Bo-lan, who was considered Hong Kong’s most senior investigator, proceeded on leave 18 July following an abrupt shake-up within the anti-graft body. Li became the first woman to lead the Operations Department last year and also the first ICAC officer to be sent for special training with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2000. Li’s stepping down was largely associated with the ICAC’s investigation into CY Leung’s UGL case despite Leung and the anti-graft watchdog’s repeated denial.

LegCo Candidates Requested to Sign Allegiance Confirmation Form

The Electoral Affairs Commission required candidates running in September’s LegCo elections to sign a new confirmation form pledging allegiance to the HKSAR government to screen out pro-independence candidates. A total of six candidates, including Chan Ho-tin of Hong Kong National Party and Edward Leung of Hong Kong indigenous were eventually denied to run in the election.

Medical Council Reform Bill Fails to get Past LegCo

Former Medical lawmaker Leung Ka-lau and some pan-democrats managed to block a vote on a bill to reform the Medical Council after a last ditch effort to have it passed on 15 July when the previous Legislative Council term ended. Chief Secretary blasted the filibuster as “the tyranny of the minority” while Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said it would take two to three months to come up with a new reform proposal which is likely to be as controversial. Legco president Jasper Tsang noted that 115 hours had been spent on quorum calls in 2015-16, with 596 bells rung.

 

August

Disputes Over Discussion of Hong Kong Independence in Schools

CY Leung stressed that schools should have clear stance over the topic of independence and there is no room for discussions. This came after the Council on Professional Conduct in Education and Secretary for Education Eddie Ng concluded that there is no need to amend existing regulations and codes for teachers to address the issue. Chan Ho-tin of Hong Kong National Party previously called for secondary school students to form their own groups advocating discussion on the topic.

 

September

Status Quo Retained in LegCo Elections

The anti-establishment camp has grabbed 30 out of 70 LegCo seats in total to go across the one-third threshold, suggesting that the government would not be able to push through its own version of political reform through LegCo unchallenged. The pan-democrats have retained three seats in the ‘super seats’ after a close match between James To of Democratic Party and Wong Kwok-hing of FTU and won two more seats (Medical and Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape FCs) on top of the six traditional FCs held by pan-dem (IT, Accountancy, Legal, Health Services, Education and Social Welfare).

The DAB remains as the largest party in the LegCo with 12 seats, followed by Democratic Party and BPA, both with 7 seats. Before the ‘Oathgate’ saga, localists and ‘post-Umbrella soldiers’, including the more radical Baggio Leung, Cheng Chung-tai and Yau Wai-ching as well as the moderate Nathan Law, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Lau Siu-lai have become the critical minority and the third loosely attached faction in the LegCo

Leung-Tsang Split Highlighted in Wang Chau Controversy

CY Leung stated on 21 September at a high-profile press session that he was in charge of the Wang Chau development project and was the one who decided to build the proposed 17,000 public housing units in phases based on Housing Department’s suggestion. Financial Secretary John Tsang reiterated that he played no role in making that particular decision, but both he and Leung denied that there was any buck-passing of the responsibility, with Tsang saying: “You always agree with your boss, no question about that.”

Secretary for Housing and Transport Anthony Cheung said the Housing Department arranged four unofficial meetings with local stakeholders, including Ping Shan Rural Committee chairman Tsang Shu-wo and then Yuen Long DC chairman Leung Che-cheung.

Meanwhile, police arrested six people, two with triad backgrounds, believed to be involved in a series of threats against legislator-elect Eddie Chu who brought the Wang Chau saga into public attention.

 

October

Chaotic LegCo on Day 1 with Oath Taking Controversy

Secretary General of the LegCo Secretariat Kenneth Chen Wei-on rejected the oath taken by three new legislators-elect, namely Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching of Youngspiration and Edward Yiu from the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector.

Leung and Yau were eventually disqualified as lawmakers by Hong Kong’s court following the NPC’s interpretation of the Basic Law with Edward Yiu, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung also facing legal challenges from the government to unseat them.

Retired Judge Woo Kwok-hing First to Run for CE

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing became the first publicly-declared candidate for next year’s CE election on 27 October. Woo, 70, is a former vice-president of the Court of Appeal and was chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission between 1993 and 2006 then the commissioner on interception of communications and surveillance until 2012.

Other announced candidates include Regina Ip and ex-DAB member Wu Sai-chuen.

 

November

Error-Prone Air Traffic Control System Launched

A much-delayed new air traffic management system was launched on 14 November despite concerns over the system’s reliability. The launch was followed by multiple occasions on which the radar screen failed to display or mistakenly displayed the location of flights leading to outbound flights being halted for several times. The Civil Aviation Department insisted that the incidents involved no safety concerns and warned its staff over further leakage of internal information.

 

December

CY Leung Announced not to Seek Re-election ahead of EC Election

CY Leung made a shocking announcement that he would not seek re-election on 9 December, two days before the Election Committee elections, citing “family reasons.”

Financial Secretary John Tsang resigned three days later while Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said she have had to reconsider running for CE amid new circumstances.

The pro-democracy camp managed to secure a total of 325 seats in the Election Committee, 120 seats more than the previous term.

Alex Fok

Alex Fok

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong’s daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society’s magazine – PASSTIMES.
Alex Fok

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