As Hong Kong erupts in pro-democracy protests again, the fate of its Chief Executive, Carrie Lam hangs in balance. Ever since Lam assumed the reigns of the former British territory in 2017, Hong Kong has massively tilted towards the Chinese Communist Party as the latter moves at a menacing speed to strip off the city of its autonomy and whatever little freedom that is available. This has been possible only because of Lam’s total devotion to the CCP and has been proven incapable to protect the interests of Hong Kong and challenge the CCP’s hegemony.
On the contrary, Tsai Ing-wen who took control of Taiwan in 2016, has fearlessly taken on the CCP and protected Taiwan’s interests and her brilliant handling of the pandemic, has further enhanced the stature of Taiwan which has delivered a crushing blow to Xi Jinping’s dream of taking back Taiwan by force, if necessary.
While Carrie Lam and Tsai Ing-wen took over the reigns of Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively at almost the same time, both the leaders have taken starkly different routes, while the former has succumbed to the CCP pressure, the latter is standing up and openly challenging the CCP.
Hong Kong is erupting again after the introduction of the controversial national security legislation through which the CCP is trying to pull the plug on Hong Kong’s freedom. Through this legislation, Beijing plans to stop mass protests by banning acts of treason, secession and subversion which would effectively signal the death knell of the “one country, two systems” principle which China had promised to the UK when it took over the reigns of Hong Kong in 1997 and pledged to keep the city semi-autonomous until 2047.
There is an increasing fear that Hong Kong will lose its independence with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the new national security legislation will effectively act as a “death knell” for the autonomy of the city. The US has also threatened to put sanctions.
Being the leader of Hong Kong, one would expect Carrie Lam to stand up for her citizens, however, she has proven to be a loyal puppet of the CCP. Lam has pledged to “fully cooperate” with Beijing over the national security law as Lam in a statement said that the local government would, “complete the legislation as soon as possible to discharge its responsibility”.
Taiwan is also battling to remain independent from the throngs of the CCP with Tsai Ing=wen standing as a thorn in the CCP’s dream of taking back Taiwan. In her first term itself, Tsai managed to greatly irk China as in a bold move, she dialed Donald Trump in December 2016 and secured the country’s first American fighter jet deal in 30 years.
China being true to its characteristics, tried to diplomatically isolate Taiwan as the island country is now recognised by a paltry 15 countries of which most of them are Latin and Pacific countries with little say in International Affairs. But Taiwan doesn’t need to worry, as the USA unanimously has passed the TAIPEI Act which will see the USA lobbying to get diplomatic recognition for Taiwan. The TAIPEI Act also mandates the USA to safeguard Taiwan in case of a Chinese military aggression.
Last year, Lam reached the nadir of her career as the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests exposed her failings. Lam who was overconfident, pushed for the highly controversial extradition bill which allowed the extradition of the Hongkongers to the mainland. There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that the CCP would use this bill as a weapon to punish any dissenters of the CCP regime in Hong Kong and bring them to justice in the mainland. The bill would have effectively allowed the CCP to punish anyone who earned the wrath of Xi Jinping and his lackeys despite the fact that Hong Kong is an autonomous region and the CCP on paper is supposed to have no jurisdiction in the city.
The CCP was already battling accusations of how it kidnapped its naysayers from across the border and made them mysteriously disappear in China. The extradition bill would have given the CCP a legal cover. If Carrie Lam had the best interest of Hong Kong in mind, she would have never pushed for the bill.
Hong Kong was in no mood to sell its soul to the CCP like Carrie Lam and it took to streets and protested against the bill, which caught the attention of the world. A whopping 1 million people marched against the bill in June 2019, but Lam was unmoved.
The protests only grew as an estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets after Lam announced that she was “suspending” the bill. The subsequent brutal crackdown on the protesters caught the global media’s attention which saw Lam under increasing pressure. Lam finally cracked and in September, withdrew the bill.
While Lam publicly postured a tough stance, a leaked audio recording the night before Lam would announce the withdrawal of the bill revealed that Beijing was pressuring her to stay on as a loyal puppet. The audio recording saw Lam say, “For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology, is to step down.”
Lam who has publicly claimed that she admires Xi Jinping the most out of all the leaders, recently claimed blamed Hong Kong’s ‘liberal’ education system for last year’s protests. Lam has claimed that students need protection from being “poisoned”and fed “false and biased information”. She said, “In terms of handling the subject of liberal studies in the future, we will definitely make things clear to the public within this year.”
This will effectively mean that Lam will change the country’s education system with the aim of producing slaves of the CCP who think Mao Zedong created the human civilisation and Xi Jinping is the modern day version of god.
Lam will only get more hawkish now as after the last year’s protests, Beijing added two trusted hardliners who have the personal backing of Xi Jinping to tighten the CCP’s grip on Hong Kong. It is a separate thing that the hardliners have no prior experience in managing Hong Kong’s affairs but it’s hardly a criteria.
Lam wasted no time in toeing Beijing’s line as soon as she assumed the reigns of Hong Kong. In the local legislative elections, Lam started disqualifying all pro-democracy candidates who pressed for “self-determination”. In July 2018, Lam banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party under the garb of sedition.
Lam has completely followed her leader, Xi Jinping as she denied a working visa to a respected Financial Times journalist, Victor Mallet after he met the convenor of Hong Kong National party, Chan Ho-tin. After returning from Bangkok, Mallet was denied a working visa and was also subjected to a 4 hour long interrogation by the immigration officers and was only granted a 7 day tourist visa.
While Lam is determined to destroy every last shred of Taiwan’s autonomy, Tsai has steadfastly refused to accept the “One China” policy and has been proven to be a calm head as she has sought to benefit from the deteriorating relations between the US and China. Tsai has stressed for better relations with China which does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country as she said, “Cross-strait relations have reached a historical turning point. Both sides have a duty to find a way to co-exist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences. I also hope that the leader on the other side of the strait will take on the same responsibility, and work with us to jointly stabilize the long-term development of cross-strait relations.”
Roy Lee, a deputy director at the Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research said, “President Tsai took a non-provocative and principled approach on the political issues. Tsai will likely continue to face any comments from China with a gentle and firm attitude.”
Lam’s regime has been fraught with controversies sash has fast tracked Hong Kong’s path to become a Chinese province by shedding all its autonomy. After last year’s pro-democracy protests, the local elections in November 2019 delivered a huge blow to Lam and her party. Lam’s pro-Beijing party suffered the largest electoral defeat in Hong Kong’s history as the pro-democrats gained more than 240 seats, which is over 80 per cent of the available seats, and now controls 17 of the 18 District Councils.
While Lam has lost, Tsai was re-elected with a landslide victory earlier this year. Tsai swept to power after she supported the Hong Kong democracy protests as her party garnered over 8 million votes while the opposition Kuomintang folded up with less than 6 million votes.
Lam had a chance to redeem herself by tackling the Wuhan coronavirus but yet again she ended up being the CCP’s loyal puppet. During the initial outbreak of the virus, Lam refused to pay heed to growing demands of banning travellers from the mainland as she claimed that such a move would be “discriminatory” despite the strong evidence calling for a ban on travellers from China.
Lam was pressured into announcing a mandatory 14 day quarantine for those entering the city from the mainland after Hong Kong reported its first death and thousands of healthcare workers threatened to go on a strike in February. Lam’s response to the virus again shows that she doesn’t have the best interests and safety of Hong Kong.
Compare that to Taiwan’s handling of the virus. Taiwan has made giant strides under Tsai with most notably being her stupendous handling of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic which has shot up her approval ratings of an all-time high of 61%. Taiwan, despite its proximity to China has reported only 440 odd cases of the virus with 7 fatalities which has caught the eye of the world.
Hong Kong needs a leader like Tsai Ing-wen to protect its autonomy.