Is there room for Hong Kong’s political centre under national security law and US-China wrestling?

How long does it take for a group photo? Seconds, minutes, an hour or so at the most for an elaborate shoot?
That was all it would have needed for the city’s lawmakers from two opposing camps to maintain the once-in-four-years tradition to pose for a moment of bipartisanship and professional courtesy to mark the end of their legislative term.
But that was not to be, for the first time in 23 years since Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese sovereignty. In a dramatic midnight scene on Saturday in the Legislative Council chamber, neither pro-establishment lawmakers nor their pan-democratic rivals were willing to take that single ceremonial photo together.
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Each side took its own group photo, which means Legco’s official gallery will, for the first time, have to display two separate images to mark the end of the 2016-20 session.
As petty as it looked, such a consequence was not totally unexpected, given the drastic changes in Hong Kong’s political landscape in recent years -” especially since last year’s political chaos and social unrest, which eventually led to Beijing’s swift imposition of the sweeping national security law.
The day we said goodbye to perhaps the most divided ever Legco session, dominated by endless hurly-burlies, filibustering, and physical clashes, also marked the start of the two-week nomination period for the next Legco election scheduled in September.
Can this city’s politicians, whichever camp they hail from, ever be able to break the political impasse and bring some freshness and constructiveness? Is there any room for the political centre for consensus building in this city?
The group is shrinking for sure as radicals from the “deep yellow” camp gain momentum. The result of the pan-democrats’ primary early this month provided the latest proof of younger localists outperforming the traditional veterans. The outcome has deterred some relatively moderate pan-democrats from running for the new term.
Meanwhile, there is a growing trend of toughness within the pro-establishment bloc and wider “blue” camp. This group not only strongly supports both Beijing and the local government, it has also opted for more confrontational, tit-for-tat tactics against the opposition.
Hong Kong national security law official English version:
Gone are the days when the two sides could at least reach consensus on certain livelihood issues.
The sidelining of the political centre did not come out of nowhere.
For the opposition, from their oath-taking storm to blocking government policy initiatives, drastic tactics unseen in the playbook of the elder generation have become the new normal.
In return, the Hong Kong government and Beijing in particular, came up with new weapons such as the disqualification of rebels in the chamber and tougher vetting of new candidates with new rules.
Adding to the complexity is the unfortunate reality of Hong Kong being dragged into the middle of much bigger political wrestling between the world’s two major powers.
A higher bar for entering the city’s political stage has been set by Beijing to make sure any loophole it considers a threat to national security is plugged ” signing a form pledging support for the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, is one immediate test for all Legco nominees.
To sign or not to sign, that is the question for opposition nominees. Will they continue to be defiant by ignoring this request but risking losing their eligibility to run? And how stringent will the official vetting be? The coming two weeks will tell how much room there still is for the political centre.
But all sides must realise that losing the middle ground will be detrimental to Hong Kong’s longer-term interests.
Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post’s Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post’s newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, w…
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