22 August 2019
Xi Jinping (right) meets Leung Chun-ying in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: CCTV
Xi Jinping (right) meets Leung Chun-ying in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: CCTV

Does Beijing still trust Leung as the man to rule Hong Kong?

The Occupy protests have lasted for more than 40 days, and there are signs China’s top leader is prepared to allow Hong Kong’s government to clear the protest zones soon.

President Xi Jinping met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Sunday, the first time they spoke face to face since the Occupy campaign began on Sept. 28.

Xi stressed the importance of the rule of law during the meeting, apparently granting the green light for the Hong Kong government to take action, but does it mean Beijing fully supports Leung in the long run?

The central government “fully affirms and supports” the efforts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region chief executive and the HKSAR government to govern in line with the law, especially their hard work to safeguard the authority of the rule of law and maintain social order, Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Xi said the rule of law is a key foundation for Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity, according to the report.

It is quite strange that Xinhua did not mention Leung’s name, referring to him as the “HKSAR chief executive”. That could be a hint that the central government was expressing its support for the administration as a whole, rather than endorsing what Leung has done or will do, in an attempt to avoid being seen as intervening in the Occupy protests.

In fact, some observers have raised the question whether Beijing is still fully supportive of Leung as the Occupy campaign wears on.

At the start of the meeting on Sunday, Xi did not give his verbal support to Leung and his cabinet in front of the media cameras, a departure from previous practice.

The report cited only unnamed sources for comments on Leung during the meeting, such as “Beijing trusts Leung to handle the crisis” and “Leung can take action bravely”. But it is unclear whether the remarks came from Xi.

There has long been speculation whether Xi might fire Leung before the chief executive’s term expires in 2017.

As things stand, Beijing could prefer to keep the status quo and leave Leung in office. But the main tasks in running the administration, including pushing forward electoral reform and resolving the Occupy protests, could be left to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Many political observers have speculated over the past six weeks about when Beijing would give Leung the green light to take action against the protesters.

Xi’s remarks seem to show he has fully authorised the Hong Kong government to handle the crisis, which could be interpreted as Beijing refraining from stepping into Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

In other words, Xi will leave the crisis to Leung and will not take any responsibility for the chief executive’s decision about the next step in dealing with it.

In fact, Beijing fully understands the ongoing development of the Occupy campaign, as Leung admitted his government has been reporting about it daily to the central government.

Beijing knows that what the students and protesters want in order to end their occupation is for it to grant the right of public nomination for candidates in the 2017 election for chief executive.

However, the central government has no intention of giving in to this demand, as public nomination would undermine its plan to ensure one of its loyalists wins the election.

That could be the reason why Beijing has given no response to the request by the Hong Kong Federation of Students last week to meet top state leaders.

In fact, if both sides insist on their positions, a meeting would be meaningless and could polarize public opinion further, which would test Leung and Lam’s ability to resolve the protests in the near future.

And Beijing could play no role in the crisis until the Hong Kong government finishes clearing out the protesters.

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EJ Insight writer

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