It all began when the Communist-appointed leader of the city, Donald Tsang, decided to make seventeen political appointments to his staff, on the notion that "political appointees would provide more accountable government than bevies of civil servants" (BBC). Local democrats seized on that fairly quickly:
The obvious problem with the theory, pointed out by Hong Kong's feisty democratic camp, is that without proper elections, there is no mechanism for getting rid of ministers and none has yet taken responsibility for anything. Instead, say the critics, the appointees are government loyalists who get in the way of professional managers at the expense of taxpayers.
At this point, it's still a normal (well, normal for HK) argument between the democrats and the Communists over political power, freedom, and accountability. Then things took a very ominous turn for the cadres (emphasis added):
The pan-democratic opposition mounted a concerted campaign, questioning the opaque nature of the appointment process, the US$17,000 (£8,600) to US$28,600 monthly salaries being paid to allies of the chief executive, and the new staffers' claimed loyalty to Hong Kong.
The most prominent new appointee, Greg So, is deputy chairman of the pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB). Alongside his Hong Kong identity and Chinese nationality, he also holds a Canadian passport.
The question was raised: How patriotic can Mr So be if he has kept his foreign nationality? It then came to light that most of the new appointees held dual nationality.
For the Communists, this was an absolute nightmare. One of their lead propagandists in Hong Kong was exposed as what we would call a "dual citizen" - giving the democrats to the chance to accuse him and his fellow cadre-blessed pols as having divided loyalties. Even worse, the democrats actually won the argument:
So not only did the cadres have to hear accusations of being unpatriotic, they had to respond to them and alleviate them. In other words, after the democrats claimed the Communist-backed appointees weren't fully patriotic, the appointee ceded the point and changed policy.
The government mishandled the affair from the start - refusing to reveal the salaries on offer only to be forced into a humiliating apology and full disclosure.
On the nationality issue, it first stated that the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution, did not require deputy ministers to relinquish second passports. Then it refused to reveal who did or did not have extra passports.
Finally, public pressure forced most of the new appointees to say they would give up their foreign citizenship, to "prove" their patriotism.
One can easily see how this could be disastrous for Beijing. It wasn't outside forces who were damaging the Middle Kingdom; nor was it angry dissidents who were dividing the Chinese people. The Hong Kong cadres themselves were caught without sufficient patriotism, and even worse, the dissident-democrats were the ones who exposed them and grabbed the flag for themselves.
As word of this spreads, the regime will find itself on the defensive on the one issue that is essential to its survival. In the long run, that could bring closer the day when the Chinese people rise up and take their country back.
In the short run, however, we can expect from Beijing more repression at home (Boycott 2008), more historical justification what is both ahistorical and unjustifiable (Times of London), more suspicion towards "outsiders" (Boycott 2008), and more overseas intimidation (Epoch Times). Of course, the anti-American policies that have defined Communist China's foreign policy for years will also continue.
The free world must be prepared to ride out this storm and band together to contain, isolate, and undermine the Communist regime. That means a recognition that international "improvements" with Beijing are superficial at best (BBC), and that disputes am0ng ourselves must be minimized (Washington Post and Washington Times). America and her democratic allies will never be secure until China is free.