Conspiracy theory and paranoia walk hand in hand. The notion that events, the product of mischance, miscalculation or sheer incompetence, are in fact the outcome of sinister plots concocted by evil masterminds appeal alike to the paranoid and novelists, such as the late Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.
However, conspiracy theory occasionally gets it right. Consider recent events in Hong Kong. Two localist politicians, Leung and Yau, elected to Legco, deliberately make a mess of their oath taking and are disqualified from the Council following court action by the Government and an interpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing. There is little public sympathy for the pair, who are widely derided on social media and deserted by Legco members. This is a significant political win for the Government and a source of satisfaction to Beijing.
The Government had the option of quietly congratulating itself on a rare political victory and hoping for a less unsatisfactory outcome from the two by-elections occasioned by the disqualifications. Instead, they doubled-down by seeking through the courts the disqualification of another four anti-establishment Legco members, whose alleged transgressions were both less conspicuous and evidently improper than those of Leung and Yau. The Government was pushing their luck and risking a less than total legal victory.
And then, on Monday 5 December, a Government minister, Financial Secretary John Tsang, refused in Legco to answer questions from the four members who were the targets of the Government’s legal manoeuvres. He cited legal advice in support of this move, a decision that shocked the Legco President, angered both pro- and anti-establishment legislators and was reversed within a matter of hours.
It should be noted in passing that Tsang is widely believed to be planning to run for the post of Chief Executive of the HKSAR in the 2017 election as a more emollient and populist candidate than incumbent C Y Leung. It could be considered an unfortunate coincidence that this widely liked man should be the fall guy for a bizarre and foolish government decision.
The following morning, Tuesday 6 December, C Y Leung was in the news stating that Tsang should have answered questions from the targeted four. Refusal was wrong.
To judge these events as merely a series of random incidents demands the following assumptions: that the lawyers who are said to have advised against answering the questions got it seriously wrong; that the Government chose not to inform the Legco President because they assumed he either would agree with the advice or that his views were irrelevant; that pro-establishment Legco members would fall in line with the decision, that the wider public would acquiesce in a move that presumed the guilt of those charged and whose case remains unheard.
In other words, the Government was more politically inept, badly advised and blindly arrogant than usual and that John Tsang without a direct instruction from his boss, the Chief Executive, proceeded to destroy his nice-guy image in public.
On the other hand, some might assume that he was, elaborately but clumsily, set up by his boss, who wished to undermine a competitor in the forthcoming Chief Executive election. Some may think such a plan worthy of a Bond villain, the product a highly vindictive personality, sly, devious and cunning, yet ultimately clumsy and transparent in his execution. Surely not.