Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam must learn lesson of butterfly effect from Taiwan murder case

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年10月20日16:10 • Tammy Tam
  • Handling of soon-to-be-released suspect, whose case sparked protest crisis, presents Lam with new conundrum likely to send tremors across China and beyond
  • What can Lam take from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility about not allowing emotionality to overcome reasoning?
The next stage of the saga surrounding the Taiwan murder case requires Carrie Lam to think more politically than emotionally if she is to avoid repeating the mistakes that led to the protest crisis. Photo: Winson Wong

"What does 'butterfly effect' mean? It happens when a cold-blooded Hong Kong man allegedly had the guts to kill his girlfriend in Taiwan, but lacked the moral courage to face justice so he fled home, stirring up a perfect storm he would have never ever imagined."

"What does 'butterfly effect' mean? It happens when a powerful woman claims, as a mother, that she must have empathy towards another mother who lost her daughter. So she came up with a reckless decision she believed would bring back justice but ended up making everyone suffer, including herself."

Social media posts such as these have gone viral as Hong Kong remains engulfed in months of massive social turmoil triggered by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's now "dead" extradition bill.

Murder suspect Chan Tong-kai has indicated his intention to turn himself in to Taiwan authorities after his release from prison. Photo: Winson Wong

The butterfly effect is back. The man at the centre of the storm is likely to soon cause a new wave of non-linear impacts, not just on this city, but Taiwan too, before it inevitably spills across the Taiwan Strait to affect the island's fragile relations with mainland China, which may have a further bearing on China-US ties.

It may sound like speculation but that is the reality.

The murder suspect, Chan Tong-kai, will be released this week after spending 18 months in jail for a less-serious charge of money laundering stemming from the theft of his murdered girlfriend's money and property.

His case was cited by Lam as a key justification for the now-withdrawn bill, the argument being that Hong Kong was becoming a haven for wanted fugitives such as Chan who could not be sent back to other jurisdictions in the absence of a formal extradition deal.

He surprised the whole town by deciding to turn himself in to Taiwan after months of persuasion by Reverend Canon Peter Koon Ho-ming, a top Anglican priest.

Murder suspect who triggered protests wants to turn himself in to Taiwan

The chief executive confirmed she had received Chan's letter asking for help with his surrender, and promised to make the necessary arrangements, as she expressed "relief" over his decision.

But there is a problem: Taiwan is kicking the ball back to Hong Kong, apparently out of many political considerations with its presidential election approaching.

Chan's return does not seem to be of any help to incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen in her quest for a second term. The pro-independence Tsai has emerged as the only winner so far in the Hong Kong crisis.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen is the only political beneficiary so far of Hong Kong's extradition bill crisis, which spawned a wider anti-government movement. Photo: AFP

Lam's debacle provided the Taiwanese leader with both political capital and ammunition to fight her campaign rivals, in particular Han Kuo-yu, the presidential hopeful from the opposition Kuomintang party.

It also empowered Tsai to be defiant enough to reject "one country, two systems", the governing formula for Hong Kong which Beijing hopes to apply to Taiwan in future.

Lam 'relieved' that murder suspect in extradition saga to turn himself in

Over the weekend, Taiwan urged Hong Kong to continue to jail Chan or to prosecute him before his release, a suggestion dismissed as "ridiculous" by the Hong Kong government. But Lam revealed her officials were in contact with their Taiwan counterparts anyway.

Before a deal can be reached any time soon, Lam is caught up again in a scenario in which the mere flapping of a butterfly's wings " Chan's wish to turn himself in " may become the new catalyst for another political typhoon sweeping through both sides before hitting the mainland as well.

Lam failed to be sensitive enough about the impact on US-China trade talks and the profound complexity of the new leadership race in Taiwan when she initiated the controversial bill.

Carrie Lam's good intentions over the extradition bill preceded months of protests that often turn ugly, including this one in Mong Kok on Sunday. Photo: Felix Wong

It was first about emotion and empathy on her part, but her good intentions unleashed chaos.

To borrow from Jane Austen's concept of "sense and sensibility", in the cruel world of politics, Lam cannot afford, for the second time, to allow her personal sensibility or emotionality to overshadow her sense " or to be specific, political common sense.

Her Taiwan counterparts, survivors of the island's political "killing fields", are all highly skilful and sophisticated political veterans and never easy to deal with.

The smallest ripples can end up changing the world. This is not a time for Lam to be relieved, but to be extra vigilant.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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