19 May 2019
President Xi Jinping is said to be dissatisfied with the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP
President Xi Jinping is said to be dissatisfied with the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Communist Party stuffing left foot into Hong Kong’s right shoe

This year, Macau marks the 15th anniversary of its return to China, and Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on once again got elected as the only candidate.

President Xi Jinping, who has become even more firmly entrenched in power after the fourth plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee, officiated at Chui’s inauguration ceremony and bestrode the city of Macau like Colossus, as if declaring his unchallenged supremacy over the affairs of Hong Kong and Macau.

It has become clear that Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National Peoples’ Congress and head of the Hong Kong and Macau liaison task force, has taken a back seat in managing the affairs of the two special administrative regions.

To save face, Zhang arrived in Macau a week before Xi, but his arrival didn’t garner much attention, even from the pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong.

As far as Wang Guangya, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the liaison office of the central government in Hong Kong, are concerned, both kept a low profile during the Umbrella movement, as did other Beijing officials in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

It was rumoured that Xi was very dissatisfied with the liaison office, which he believed had failed to offer an accurate assessment of the situation in Hong Kong and therefore misled the central authorities.

To his dismay, he discovered the liaison office had been involved in a series of maneuvers in collaboration with local political and economic heavyweights with a view to controlling Hong Kong’s affairs.

I predict a massive reshuffle in the local pro-Beijing camp when things in Hong Kong are settled.

Sources also say party leaders in Beijing have ordered the leftist media in Hong Kong to undergo reforms so as to gain more ground in their propaganda campaign and set the correct ideological tone.

It seems the days of those Beijing officials and local leftists who used to throw their weight around are numbered, and Emperor Xi is calling the shots now.

In his speech at the inauguration ceremony of Chui’s new cabinet, Xi said we must adhere to a “one country” principle, based on which the “two systems” can then flourish, otherwise it will be just like “putting one’s left foot into the right shoe”.

While local political pundits are reading much into this metaphor, I think Xi’s remarks only signified his mindset as a totalitarian dictator and indicated that he did not understand the essence of the idea of the “one country, two systems” principle conceived by Deng Xiaoping.

Xi probably thinks that given China’s enormous wealth these days, it no longer has to rely on Hong Kong to realize Deng’s “Four Modernizations”.

Under Xi’s reign, he reckons, the principle of “one country, two systems” should assume a rather different meaning.

While he continued to pledge respect for the difference between the “two-systems” in his speech, Xi also acknowledged Macau’s great success in implementing the “two systems” principle while firmly adhering to “one country” and cultivating a great sense of belonging to the mainland and patriotism among the people of Macau.

His remarks suggest Xi is very impressed with the way Macau has been governed and would very much want Hong Kong to learn from the Macau model.

However, it’s easier said than done, since Hong Kong and Macau share a completely different political, economic, social and cultural background.

After the 1967 riots, the British government did not give in to the influence of the Communists and continued to govern Hong Kong effectively.

And when Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, it was in excellent economic condition, with government reserves of over HK$400 billion (US$51.5 billion at today’s exchange rates).

In contrast, after the Dec 13th Incident in Macau in 1966, a strong communist influence was everywhere in the city, but the Portuguese government simply looked the other way.

And when Macau was returned to China in 1999, the city was almost ripped apart by recession, corruption and gang violence, and the transitional government was left with basically no reserves whatsoever.

However, after the handover, the city of Macau quickly developed into the world’s largest gambling hub thanks to the bold decision of former chief executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah to open up the gaming industry to foreign competition.

But Ho’s broad economic plan would never have been successful without the consent and support of Beijing, which played a key and leading role in Macau’s quick recovery after 1999.

Therefore, I wonder whether the people of Macau have ever been given a truly free hand to run their own city.

In the first seven years after Hong Kong’s handover, the city did enjoy a period of almost full autonomy, and any interventions by Beijing were kept to a minimum, as was the influence of the central government’s liaison office.

In fact, former chief executive Tung Chee-wah could have cemented his place in history if his grand blueprint to create a pan-Pearl River Delta business hub with Hong Kong at its centre had been successfully implemented.

Unfortunately, as time went by, Tung proved himself to be an incompetent leader, and it was during his term of office that social problems such as the widening wealth gap and the hegemony of big real estate developers deepened.

To make matters worse, in the face of the controversy surrounding the right of abode issue, instead of getting to the bottom of the matter by restricting the number of mainland immigrants, Tung sought to defuse the bomb by inviting the National Peoples’ Congress to interpret the Basic Law, thereby destroying the foundation of our rule of law and opening the floodgates to more future intervention from Beijing.

After Tung stepped down in 2005, his successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, did manage to rebuild social harmony, at least for the first one or two years.

However, it was during his term that the liaison office extended its tentacles, and its political influence began to grow unchecked, which eventually led to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s rise to power.

I am sure President Xi is well aware that the failure of the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong has its roots in an unfair and unsustainable political system that includes the functional constituencies, a chief executive who often abuses his unchecked executive power in collaboration with big corporations, and relentless intervention from the liaison office.

If these issues are not addressed, they will eventually shred the fabric of our society.

Imposing the Macau model on Hong Kong is simply like stuffing the Communist Party’s left foot into Hong Kong’s right shoe, and the results will only be disastrous to Hong Kong and the mainland.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 24.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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