An eruption of Peeved Panty-wetting Panda Petulance, as Beijing insists the US is the main threat to global trade and is forcing it to militarize the South China Sea. This is the same regime that has picked Teresa Cheng as Hong Kong’s new Justice Secretary, only to find she has embarrassing illegal-structure and other problems. If their cantankerousness on the international front is any guide, Chinese officials will dig in and keep her.
Cheng’s credibility is falling away in clumps on a daily basis. The latest blows to her image are: her official declaration of interests showing ownership of multiple properties as far afield as Yunnan; an illicitly enlarged window at her HK$62 million Repulse Bay apartment; and use of a loophole, supposedly to benefit struggling first-time home-buyers, to reduce stamp duty on her purchase of the latter. (This just in: Miffy and Pooh in the wine basement. The banality is so predictable it’s almost sad.)
Her use of the stamp-duty loophole is presumably legal, and indeed common-sense – who would pay millions in tax unnecessarily? But in the context of Hong Kong’s unaffordable housing, rising inequality and a growing sense that the rich feel above the law, it’s a killer.
Beijing has two reasons to stick with Cheng.
The first, as with denying mercantilism and military expansionism, is pure bloody-minded refusal to admit it might be wrong. We must show Hong Kong who’s boss and not defer to public opinion or a free press. Keeping her is a Leninist version of ‘the medium is the message’.
The second is that we can’t find anyone else who can be trusted to publicly manage and justify the continuing clampdown on political dissent and rule of law in Hong Kong.
The main reason to dump her is that she might become a liability to the ongoing ideological rectification of the city. For example, one of the job’s duties will be to help pass national security (‘Article 23’) laws. Among other things, Beijing will probably demand anti-subversion measures that criminalize opinions – opening the way to censorship of the press and the Internet. Will the presence of Teresa Cheng the Stamp Duty Dodger tip the balance and bring enough protestors onto the street to derail the new laws?
If Beijing’s Liaison Office is thinking ahead, it must also consider the pitiful reputation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration. Carrie has no role in any of this, except to look helpless. But a Hong Kong government that looks and acts powerless-bordering-on-joke weakens Beijing’s control. Letting Carrie appear to take charge and get rid of the new Justice Secretary would bolster the puppet’s authority, such as it is.
On balance, the pan-dems should quietly hope the Communists keep Teresa Cheng in office.