Cracks in the establishment

A chronological collection of pro-government officials who have broken ranks, shaking the status quo.

Photo Credit: Cracks by a.dombrowski from Flickr Creative Commons’

The number of important pro-establishment members who have spoken out about their concerns regarding the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Crime Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill and how it has been handled is growing. More and more, their narrative is contradicting that of the government and police is and aligning with protester demands.  

From normally supine business leaders to civil servants, more people are willing to take positions on Hong Kong’s future that could jeopardise their good relations with the Hong Kong government, Chinese government officials and related bodies, as well as those who curry favour with the government. Their concern for Hong Kong’s future and their constituents is outweighing the need to the norm of harmonious relations.

Those breaking ranks are coming from a wide variety of societal sectors in a way never before seen in Hong Kong; not during the Article 23 protests of 2003 and not during Occupy.

Their concerns  encompass the nature of the bill, its crafting and the need for it. However, more and more explicitly pro-establishment figures and those who normally go along with government messaging, are breaking ranks to speak out on police handling of protesters, the need for an independent inquiry and even the continuing presence of deficient ministers sitting in ExCo. 

Not the old fault lines

The Fugitive Offenders bill has not only exacerbated tensions between the government and Hongkongers who hold anti-Beijing sentiments, but it has also unveiled divisions amongst those who align with the pro-establishment sector. Many who take issue with the bill have voiced concerns over the lack of safeguards which could be easily exploited by a corrupt political agenda. Some have gone as far as to pit themselves blatantly against the bill and demand its withdrawal. This list aims to clarify and showcase the complexities of this debate, and also includes individuals, namely judges, who are considered neutral but still significant members in this debate.

Lawmakers

2 May – Michael Tien, local delegate to the National People’s Congress, is the first lawmaker to vocalize his qualms with the bill, advocating for its complete withdrawal. Regarding the urgency the government has placed on passing the bill in order to extradite Chan Tong-kai, who confessed to murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year, Tien states that this case should be treated on a “one-off basis” until the government comes to a better solution regarding the bill.

May – July – Felix Chung Kwok-pan, leader of the Liberal Party, has pushed for the bill’s withdrawal as to not arouse further conflict, additionally criticising the government for underestimating the turnout at a rally earlier this spring. James Tien, honorary chairman of the Liberal Party has been particularly critical of the government’s intransigence to the massive protests which took place in July, even calling on his party colleague Tommy Cheung and two other Exco members to step down from their positions. Chung reportedly agrees with Tien’s sentiments.

15 June – Deviating from the pack is Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak, notably in her alleged behaviour in a closed-door meeting. Although she was out garnering support for the bill and guaranteeing her voters that the bill would be passed, she makes this list for her outburst during this meeting where she reportedly swore at Carrie Lam for suspending the bill. This was revealed in an audio recording of Financial Services Sector lawmaker Christopher Cheung as he confided in a colleague while they thought their microphones were turned off during an Independent Police Complaints Council meeting. Mak banked her political career on the bill’s passing, he claimed, and when its suspension was announced she went on a verbal tirade, cursing at the Chief Executive, telling her to go out on the street and face residents who have been disappointed by this decision after the promises Mak had made.

Ex-Government Officials

12 June – A group of seven former senior officials including Stephen Siu, ex-Labour and Welfare Secretary, and ex-undersecretary for transport and housing Yau Shing-mu, published an open letter encouraging the Chief Executive to withdraw the bill. The other five members of this group consist of individuals who once held positions as political assistants in the government. Sui has also spoken in support of the government launching an independent inquiry surrounding the relevant events and controversies.

23 June – As of late June, 34 ex-Hong Kong officials and legislators such as Anson Chan and Peter Lai have convened for a second time to appeal for the full withdrawal of the bill as well as a Commission of Inquiry that would investigate the violence during protests from the sides of both the police and civilians, looking into incidents of alleged police brutality. 

Business

15 July – The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) issued a statement acknowledging their support of the decision to suspend the bill. The Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) reported that the business chamber gave its support to the bill’s “underlying principle”, but faulted it for its exclusion of safeguards that are necessary to protect civilians from unnecessary extradition to Mainland China, where they would face a legal system notorious for its disregard for transparency, fair trial, and human rights. In their latest press release, the HKGCC called for a number of actions that overlap with a number of the protesters’ demands. This includes the withdrawal of the Fugitive Offenders bill, calling for a Commission of Inquiry to examine all “allegations and grievances” incurred over the physically and emotionally charged events of the last two months.

The Judiciary 

12 June – Although considered neutral parties, three judges have anonymously come forward to express their issues with the contentious bill, referring to it as “unworkable” given Hongkongers’ distrust in the Mainland’s legal system. Mr Patrick Li of the High Court was reported to have signed a petition against the bill.

9 July – In an SCMP article, former chief justice Andrew Li wrote, “there is no doubt that the government made a serious error of political judgement” in their underestimation of the lack of trust the people of Hong Kong hold towards Mainland China. While he sees “no practical difference” between the bill’s suspension and complete withdrawal, he vouches for the latter in order to aid with reconciliation, further calling for a commission of inquiry into police conduct which would be overseen by a judge.

Academics

12 June – The Hong Kong Institute of Architects reportedly encourages the government to hold public consultations before making any further moves on the bill.

18 June – Over a thousand academics all over the world signed a petition against the extradition bill, as it infringes on personal freedoms, freedom of speech, and academic debate. One of them is Harry Wu, a historian of medicine, science, and technology at the University of Hong Kong. He worries that if the extradition bill were to ever pass, academics in Hong Kong would fear openly analysing events in Mainland China for fear of punishment.

28 July – Chairman Teddy Tang of the Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools has also called on the government to launch an independent inquiry into the handling of the extradition bill. He stresses that if the public’s anger is not adequately dealt with through the inquiry, generations of youths will lose trust in the government.

31 July – Since the end of July, two presidents of government-funded universities in Hong Kong have come forward to support protesters’ demands. First to release a statement was University of Science and Technology (HKUST) head Wei Shyy, who wrote an open letter to Carrie Lam’s administration asking that it “demonstrate [its] courage and leadership to respond and act [upon] continuing requests to launch an investigation”. Stephen Cheung, head of Education University, has backed protesters in his admissal of writing to the Chief Executive requesting for the complete withdrawal of the bill. Both of them hope to see the government prioritise the reconciliation of the stark divisions that have formed in Hong Kong.

Health Care

12-14 August – Over a thousand staff members from over a dozen public hospitals took part in sit-ins and protests at their place of work to rally against the unnecessary measures of violence police have taken against demonstrators. These gatherings were triggered particularly by an incident in which a woman was shot in the eye by a projectile during protests on 11 August, a Sunday night. Participants include personnel at Eastern Hospital, who protested on Monday, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital who gathered along with twelve other hospitals for Tuesday’s sit-ins.

This article will be updated as changes occur.

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Jasmine Lee

Jasmine Lee

Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.
Jasmine Lee
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Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.