27 March 2019
Leung Chun-ying is being spoken of in the same terms as China's disgraced first lady, Jiang Qing (inset), in Cultural Revolution-style rhetoric. Photo: Bloomberg
Leung Chun-ying is being spoken of in the same terms as China's disgraced first lady, Jiang Qing (inset), in Cultural Revolution-style rhetoric. Photo: Bloomberg

Opposing Leung equals challenging the central government?

A senior official of the National People’s Congress was quoted as saying “whoever opposes Leung Chun-ying is opposing the central authorities” during a meeting with NPC deputies from Hong Kong in Shenzhen on the weekend.

Those who studied modern Chinese history in school and read the harrowing personal accounts of experiences during the Cultural Revolution are no strangers to such rhetoric.

When the Cultural Revolution was at its height and Jiang Qing (江青), China’s first lady at the time, rose to supreme power, there was an unwritten political consensus that “whoever opposes Comrade Jiang Qing is opposing Chairman Mao Zedong”.

Jiang was charged with treason after Mao’s death. During the open trial, she defended herself by saying she was nothing but Mao’s running dog: “I will bite whoever Chairman Mao asks me to bite.”

Now, in the light of the statement that “whoever opposes Leung Chun-ying is opposing the central authorities”, the only reason Leung inserted a paragraph in this year’s policy address condemning a student union publication must be that he was told to do so.

I bet Leung wouldn’t have had the guts for such an assault without prior approval.

I participated in the drafting of several policy addresses when employed by the Hong Kong government’s Central Policy Unit. Even in the peaceful years during the Tung Chee-hwa administration, all drafts would be submitted to Beijing for approval before they were finalized for delivery.

But Leung’s attack on the students can’t be wise and may backfire, especially when his government is working on the procedure for the 2017 election for chief executive.

Leung’s accusations may instead draw more attention to pro-independence thinking in Hong Kong and turn a student publication — the Hong Kong University Students’ Union’s Undergrad magazine — into a bestseller.

Another piece of evidence that Beijing is pulling the strings behind the scenes is that NPC deputy Cheng Yiu-tong, also a member of the Executive Council, revealed after the Shenzhen meeting that “the central government is determined to push Leung to take on challenges (「中央政府已將梁振英押上去了」)”. 

The hidden message is that Leung must execute to the full extent whatever order he is given and he must “bite whoever Beijing asks him to bite”.

Yet Leung may welcome such orders, because tasks like these are where his expertise lies, rather than real work like formulating effective policies to enhance the city’s economic prospects or coming up with measures to ease the housing shortage.

After the Occupy movement, Leung feels the need to renew the political agenda to give full play to his “expertise” in political struggle as a way to conceal his incompetence in addressing a whole range of economic and livelihood issues.

Beijing’s edict to crack down on any musings about Hong Kong independence no doubt comes as a lifesaver to him.

Now here is the question: why is Beijing so desperate to mount an all-out war on “separatists”?

Beijing is aware that its retrogressive election package for 2017 will be vetoed by the Legislative Council, and it wants a scapegoat to bear all the blame. So attacking Undergrad is just Step 1.

It will label all supporters of civil nomination as separatists — student leaders, democrats and even Henry Tang Ying-yen’s allies (Tang was a former chief secretary and Leung’s major rival for chief executive in the 2012 election) — and round them up in one shot.

Blaming the student publication for agitating for independence for Hong Kong is the first move in trumping up an ultimate charge of endangering national security and territorial integrity so that Beijing’s foes can be brought down one by one.

By fair means or foul, Beijing is mounting a full-scale purge in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government and Beijing’s organs in the special administrative region are pouring in resources in support, as witness the inauguration on the weekend of the Hong Kong Army Cadets, a new uniformed youth group backed by the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army.

This is Beijing’s elaborate plan. Yet it is doomed to fail.

The reason: it’s a fallacy that changing people’s minds, or ideological remolding, can be accomplished within just a decade or two with such a purge.

The mainland is precisely a testimony to that.

There is no denying that ideological education in the mainland is a total failure, when numerous Communist cadres at all levels, while claiming they love the country and uphold noble moral values, have committed all sorts of nasty deeds and crimes throughout the past decades.

How can you expect Hongkongers, advocates of universal values in a far better and civilized society, to shift their ground and become fans of the Communist Party just 17 years after the handover?

The only way to amend China’s image is to correct all the wrongdoings and enhance governance, morality, market activity and people’s behavior.

Only after that can Hongkongers find some common ground for national identity and self-recognition as Chinese.

Back to Leung: he must be complacent after having been given his masters’ full backing, especially when Beijing has made it explicitly clear that challenging him means challenging the central government.

But perhaps he should be aware that if Beijing has a change of heart — it is known for its unpredictability — he can be abandoned at any time.

Just remember what happened to Jiang Qing in the end.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 19.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected] 


Leung, smiling, sits behind his bodyguards in the Legislative Council as pan-democratic lawmakers try to throw banners at him. Photo: Bloomberg

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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