Dead Lam Walking

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, today apologised – again – but with words and not actions. She apologised for failing to read the hearts and minds of Hong Kong’s youth, but not for attempting to ram through the extradition bill that provoked the huge demonstrations over the past two weekends; she refused to withdraw the bill, suggesting that it would die anyway. (No, I can’t follow the logic, either. Maybe its a moral objection to euthenasia). She asked for a second chance without saying what she’d do with it.

So here are my suggestions:

  • Withdraw the damn bill.
  • Move out of your mansion on Albert Road and into a public housing estate.
  • Donate 95% of the vast salary you earn to charity and see how it feels to scrape by on $15,000 per month.
  • Take the MTR or bus to work instead of being chauffeur driven everywhere.
  • Clean your own toilet, buy your own food and toilet paper.
  • Hang out outside 7-11s near universities and schools. Young people tend to congregate there because they don’t have the money to hang out in $1,000-a-head restaurants.

Etc, etc. The sad thing is that even that exercise in eating humble pie would change nothing. The problem is simple and structural. Hong Kong people expect to have a say in choosing what sort of society Hong Kong is to become. When 70% of youth have been told without being asked that they will never – as a matter of government policy – own a house in the city of their birth; when their money – let’s be clear: it’s not the government’s money but the taxpayer’s – is frittered away on white elephant infrastructure without the taxpayers and taxpayers-to-be being asked; when the government decrees without asked the population that the population will grow by 20% over ten years – without thinking to build 20% more hospitals, schools and retirement homes – people get pissed off.

None of that litany of complaints is about Carrie Lam. It’s about the legitimacy of the decision-making process. There’s an old theory that that legitimacy is grounded in the consent of the governed. A large part of that consent comes through competence, and a large part of competence comes through responsiveness. The Hong Kong government is structurally incapable of being responsive, and therefore structurally incapable of being competent. It is a deep irony that mainland China, while it does back up responsiveness with a fist, has means to funnel good ideas up the food chain. This gives its government a legitimacy to Chinese citizens that Hong Kong lacks.

The letter X, as in Xi Jinping, is pronounced “Sh” in Chinese. Xi Who Must Be Obeyed is the ultimate owner of the current debacle. Until his eyes and ears in China’s shadow government here choose to live in public housing, take the MTR to and from work, and hang out around 7-11s near universities and schools, the disobedience can only grow.