HONG KONG -- Amid continuing controversy over the Hong Kong government's move to invoke emergency powers to enact a ban on masks, a top administration adviser said the law introduced a month ago has significantly cut the number of hard-core demonstrators.
"The intensity [of protests] may have hardened, but the overall number [of protesters] has dropped significantly," said Bernard Chan, convener of the Executive Council, the top-level advisory body for Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in an interview with Nikkei Asian Review. "Once the number is down, it is much easier for the police to enforce" the law.
Chan's comments come as protesters prepared on Tuesday to mark the one-month anniversary of the law by wearing masks and as judicial and legislative challenges to the law continue. Meanwhile, Lam met in Shanghai with Chinese President Xi Jinping and is to travel to Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the protests with Vice Premier Han Zheng.
Chan, a local financier and previously Lam's election campaign manager, said the number of hard-core protesters had decreased to around 1,000 since the implementation of the anti-mask law, intended to facilitate police identification of violent demonstrators and to deter lawbreaking. Some 3,000 protesters have been arrested since June. Chan said the situation in Hong Kong remains volatile due to remaining die-hard protesters.
Yet due to what he described as the anti-mask law's positive impact, he said the government was unlikely to adopt any other measures under the city's Emergency Regulations Ordinance which bypasses the normal legislative process. There has been speculation that the government might impose a curfew or lengthen how long the police can hold people they arrest.
"Now we are talking about a smaller group of people," Chan said. "If you implement drastic measures that affect other people, they will get upset. Is it worth it to affect other people? And can you enforce it?"
Hong Kong police said 307 people have been arrested for violating the anti-mask law as of Oct. 31. Many defied the ban, including with a "masquerade party" held that Halloween evening.
Court hearings on a court challenge to the mask law launched by 24 opposition lawmakers began last week though some observers do not expect the judges overseeing the case to rule until the new year. Opposition parties are also seeking to overturn the law under a review process in the legislature, with a deadline for public comment set to end on Tuesday.
A Financial Times report last month that said Beijing had decided to replace Lam identified Chan as a potential substitute but the businessman said he had "absolutely zero plan" to take up the job and had not been approached by the central government to do so.
"This is a very demanding job, not an easy job at all to begin with," he said. "And I am not prepared to give up my business for the government."
"Right now, Beijing only wants Carrie Lam to fix the problem," he said, adding "Carrie Lam is an administrator, she is not exactly a politician."
"They probably have to think of other people down the road," Chan said. "I am happy to help as a part-timer."