Both Lam and her backers in Beijing are trying to increase pressure on opposition politicians who have been filibustering in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. That includes the important House Committee election, which is chaired by a pro-democracy lawmaker singled out by China for potentially violating his oath of office.
Lam’s government is trying to get the city back to normal as it grapples with a deep recession caused by more than six months of protests last year, followed by the Covid-19 shutdown. In doing so, she faces the challenge of balancing competing priorities, including reviving the economy by relaxing virus-era restrictions, handling resurgent protests and pushing a policy agenda that risks sparking further unrest that could derail a recovery.
Her officials on Friday relaxed measures on public gatherings, raising the number of people allowed to gather to eight from just four. Hong Kong’s lively bar and restaurant scene appears to be returning to normal, with crowds packing central areas. But alongside those steps, pro-democracy demonstrators – whose demands last year for universal suffrage were never met – are renewing their protests, with several rallies held this past weekend.
Hong Kong’s historic protest movement was first sparked last June by a since-scrapped bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. Now many activists are angry at recent statements from Lam and pro-establishment politicians about the need to bring in a law that would criminalise insulting China’s anthem, as well as controversial national security legislation that sparked a previous round of protests in 2003.
Prior statements from pro-establishment politicians about Hong Kong students not being sufficiently patriotic have fuelled concerns among activists that the government might revamp the city’s school curriculum to be more pro-China.
“It’s time for comprehensive review,” Lam said Tuesday in response to questions about the city’s liberal studies curriculum. “And to see whether it fulfils its initial aim and has the support of society, including whether the subject can equip students with a broad knowledge base, respect for diverse cultures, the ability to know right from wrong, to become responsible citizens, an understanding of national identity and having a global view.”
Beijing’s top agencies overseeing the city – the Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office – also recently argued for a greater role supervising the city’s politics. They have blasted opposition politicians for delaying tactics in the legislature, raising concerns that they are impinging on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Lam said in a Monday interview published in the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper that she would give details on how to “handle” the Liberal Studies subject within the year. “Education cannot be left unguarded, it must be tackled if something went wrong,” the report said, citing Lam. The government need to be a gatekeeper as there are people who spread untrue and biased fallacies on purpose, it cited her as saying.
Police said Monday they had arrested 230 people Sunday for unlawful assembly and a range of other offenses – the most detained in a single day since last year’s protests fizzled out in the onset of the pandemic.
“Members of the public are advised not to participate in any prohibited group gathering,” police said in a statement. “Police adopt zero tolerance against any violation and will take strict enforcement action.”
Hong Kong has successfully contained the virus without a total lockdown – just 1,048 recorded infections and only four deaths in a densely populated city of 7.4 million – residents are weary after enduring social distancing restrictions, including work-from-home measures and school closures, since late January.