The Liaison Office's headquarters in Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong Island Photo: Google Maps

The central government’s Liaison Office has slammed Hong Kong’s pan-democrats’ laam caau (burn with us) strategy and foreign politicians for “intervening” in the territory’s affairs.

Political tensions have intensified in Hong Kong since April 18, when the police arrested 15 pan-democrats who participated in last year’s anti-extradition protests. On the same day, the Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Office (HKMAO) said in statements that they were not bound by the restrictions of the Basic Law’s Article 22, which says the central government’s offices cannot interfere in the Hong Kong government’s affairs.

On April 23, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a Washington DC-based non-profit organization, said in a report titled “The Promise of Democratization in Hong Kong” that Beijing should “publicly reaffirm its commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ governing framework and refrain from any further moves that undermine Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy’ outlined in the Basic Law.”

On April 26, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten wrote in a letter to the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary that “Beijing officials have made statements about their role in Hong Kong which are a flagrant breach of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.” Patten said the Liaison Office and HKMAO “seem intent on destroying [former Chinese leader] Deng Xiaoping’s concept of ‘one country, two systems’.”

On April 29, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, accused Beijing of increasing its efforts to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs, and cautioned against any attempt to impose “draconian” national security laws in the special administrative region. He said the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms is inconsistent with the promises made by the Communist Party of China (CPC) under the “one country, two systems” principle.

On Sunday, the Liaison Office said in a statement that the NDI report was “full of lies and double standards” and had “beautified the unruly, inhuman and horrific Hong Kong terrorism as peaceful protests.” It also criticized foreign politicians, without naming them, for arrogantly and unreasonably attacking the “one country, two systems” model and the Basic Law. It said these foreign powers had rudely intervened in Hong Kong affairs. 

On Monday, Kwok Cheuk-kin, a Cheung Chau resident, filed a judiciary review against the Liaison Office for its alleged violation of Article 22 of the Basic Law. Kwok said the Liaison Office has no right to comment on Hong Kong affairs.

Due to the growing presence of the Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s law department, wrote in an article published in Apple Daily on April 28 that it was the destiny of Hongkongers to adopt a laam caau strategy to fight for freedom and democracy. 

He outlined the “10 steps to laam caau.” They are: the disqualification of democratic Legco members in the coming months, the victory of pan-democrats in the Legco election in September, another round of disqualifications of legislators, Legco’s vote-down of the government budget, the dissolution of the Legco, the reelection of the Legco in October 2021, the second vote-down of the government budget, Beijing’s declaration of a state of emergency in Hong Kong in December 2021, more protests and confrontations in the city, and western sanctions against the CPC in early 2022.

The laam caau strategy, or “burnism,” was first promoted last summer by a group of Hong Kong netizens. They said Beijing would not dare to dispense with the “one country, two systems” model as the mainland’s economy relies on Hong Kong. They also said laam caau has the same meaning as “If we burn, you burn with us,” a line used in The Hunger Games, a Hollywood movie. Prior to the anti-extradition protests, the phrase laam caau referred to a poker strategy.

Cheng Ming-yan, a veteran journalist, said laam caau would become a global term as Beijing is helping to promote it.

In fact, some anonymous pro-Beijing groups recently started hanging street banners saying, “If you burn, you burn with them.” They said pan-democrats would sacrifice Hong Kong people, instead of themselves, to achieve laam caau.

On Saturday, the Liaison Office issued a statement criticizing the pan-democrats’ laam caau strategy, which it said will damage Hong Kong’s future prospects. It said some politicians of the opposite camp were using the “yellow economic circle” and “10 steps to laam caau” to gain more votes, disrupt the free economy and push Hong Kong into an abyss.

The statement was issued after netizens launched a campaign to support the yellow shops and restaurants on May 1. Long queues were seen outside some of these restaurants

Former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called on the public to closely monitor the yellow shops and restaurants and report to the government if they had violated any rules. 

Tanya Chong, a Civic Party lawmaker, said the Liaison Office had stepped over a line when it told Hong Kong people not to visit pro-democracy shops and restaurants. Chong said the Liaison Office is trying to drum up support for the pro-establishment camp before the Legco election in September. 

Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said many Hong Kong people have avoided spending money in pro-government and pro-police shops and restaurants. Chung expects the yellow economic circle will continue to grow but it still depends on the overall economic situation in Hong Kong. 

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