Is the government still functioning properly amid Hong Kong’s snowballing political crisis? Hongkongers are not the only ones asking, the same question must be troubling Beijing.

But there is no obvious sign yet that Beijing will get deeply involved. Understandably, it still hopes Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration can clean up this unprecedented, self-made mess.

Intriguingly, the city’s leader has continued to keep an extra-low profile, cancelling her many public appearances and rarely commenting on anything.

However, her government last week swiftly dismissed any need to call for help from the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, apparently aware of the ultra-sensitivity of the matter and the serious consequences of such a drastic request.

This was after the Chinese defence ministry spokesman, Wu Jiang, when grilled by the media on Hong Kong’s protest violence and chaos, replied that “Article 14 of the Garrison Law has clear stipulations”. He did not elaborate, but he was referring to the section that allows PLA troops to be deployed upon the request of the local government if a situation goes out of control.

Local political and business heavyweights have also been quick to dismiss any thought of calling in the military.

The head of the city’s stock market, Charles Li Xiaojia, stressed that the PLA was not supposed to do the job of the police.

The usually combative former chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, now a vice-chairman of China’s top political advisory body, agreed it was best not to invoke the Garrison Law, although he suggested PLA involvement would not mean the death of the “one country, two systems” policy.

Pundits on both sides of the border have supported the argument that it would be too high a political price to pay, and thus highly unlikely.

So what can Beijing expect from the Hong Kong government?

The “no bloodshed” bottom line aside, various sources told this paper that Beijing had also requested there should be no spillover effect from Hong Kong’s chaos to harm the overall interests of the country.

When Hong Kong keeps making international headlines, Beijing definitely feels the heat and is losing political face on the global stage. Whether this local crisis has reached the point of making a massive impact is something else; after all, China and the US are resuming trade talks this week.

But while the Hong Kong government has vowed to soldier on with a strong will to govern, the latest signs point to quite the opposite, even suggesting a meltdown.

Hundreds from the most elite group of civil servants have joined an anonymous petition condemning Lam for failing to properly respond to protesters’ demands and letting the situation deteriorate further.

It did not help that her No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, angered the city’s embattled police force by making a public apology for its much-criticised handling of the Yuen Long MTR station violence.

Across the border, many mainland Chinese are watching the events here in puzzlement, confusion and even anger. And one distinct sentiment is gradually becoming clear – if Hong Kong cannot fix its own mess, just let it be, why bother?

Indeed, the PLA is garrisoned here for national defence, not to fix Hong Kong’s internal troubles.

Such a “let it be” sentiment could be a result of state media propaganda regarding the protest violence, but it is telling in reflecting the diminishing value of this city in the eyes of many mainlanders.

The government has missed multiple opportunities to take steps to heal wounds and bridge the intensifying social divide by rejecting calls for a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and an independent inquiry into the whole saga.

Timing is important, and the city cannot afford to let any potential opportunity slip away – strong political will and resolute decision-making is needed to show real governance. – South China Morning Post

Tammy Tam is the editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post