19 March 2019
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is helping revive the issue of national security law. Photo: HKEJ, AFP
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is helping revive the issue of national security law. Photo: HKEJ, AFP

What Tung Chee-hwa is really trying to tell Hong Kong

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa held another press conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday, his third since September last year, to register his personal views on Leung Chun-ying’s policy address just a week ago.

It is quite clear he is acting as Beijing’s emissary to endorse Leung’s administration and narrow the social divide resulting from the 79-day Occupy protests.

The 77-year-old vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference said it was his right to speak out for the Hong Kong government and the Leung administration.

No one can argue against that, but reading between the lines, one would notice that his message goes beyond simply congratulating CY Leung for a wonderful speech and could affect the future of Hong Kong.

Tung asserted that Beijing has the power to introduce mainland laws into the territory, in response to remarks made by Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a local deputy to the National People’s Congress who suggested over the weekend that the mainland’s security laws be applied to Hong Kong.

However, Tung said that whether the central government would exercise that authority, or whether it’s the proper thing to do, is another matter.

So although he is not endorsing Ng’s suggestion, Tung is putting his stamp of authority, as a ranking member of the central government, on the legality of such a proposal.

Tung, in fact, said that it is only a matter of time before Hong Kong enacts its own national security legislation. Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the special administration region to pass a law against acts of treason, secession and subversion.

In effect, Tung is helping revive the issue of national security legislation, which sparked massive protests during his term as chief executive.

The pro-Beijing camp, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong and the New People’s Party, did not immediately throw their support behind Ng’s proposal. Still, such divergence of opinion within the establishment camp could only be a way to muddle the issue in front of the public.

What’s clear is that the central government wants Hong Kong to pass a national security law as soon as possible, especially in the aftermath of the Occupy campaign, which Beijing maintains was instigated by external forces.

Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that Tung echoed Leung’s criticism of a university student magazine over its articles on self-reliance and self-determination for Hong Kong. Everyone knows that Beijing will not countenance any proposal, or even discussion, about Hong Kong independence.

While Tung said that criticism of the Undergrad articles does not violate freedom of expression, he stressed that people propagating such views have to bear responsibility for their actions. That implies that although Beijing may not prevent Hong Kong people from discussing the issue, they could be held legally liable for calling for independence once a national security law is put in place in the territory.

Tung appears to be sending a warning to pro-democracy groups that Beijing’s patience with them has its limits. But he is doing it in a nice, grandfatherly way, aware as he is that it is counter-productive to push opposition parties against the wall.

In the first place, it’s Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, where the pan-democratic camp has a significant presence, that will approve or reject Beijing’s political reform framework for universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.

But the way things stand, Beijing’s proposal is likely to be defeated at Legco since all the pan-democrats have vowed to reject it. And if it is rejected, Hong Kong will maintain the old system in which the 1,200 members of the electoral committee will choose the city’s next leader.

Tung did not show his support for Leung to run again in 2017 for another term of five years, but he strongly hinted that Beijing will still push for its own brand of universal suffrage rather the keep the existing small-circle regime.

That could also explain why Tung has started working closely with his former financial secretary Antony Leung and set up a think tank to prepare for the 2017 exercise.

As deputy chairman of China’s top political advisory body, Tung could give Hong Kong a clearer picture of what Beijing thinks about the current situation in the territory. While Tung could help Leung win back some support from the public, he cannot bridge the wide gap between Beijing and Hong Kong on the implementation of “one country, two systems” principle.

The former Hong Kong leader should reflect on Hong Kong people’s concerns over the toughening stance of the central government towards the territory, rather than just play the role of an errand boy from the north.

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EJ Insight writer

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