Mark Twain once said: “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government, when it deserves it.”
His witty words more than a hundred years ago could not be more appropriate for today’s Hong Kong, where the tussle over the method for the election of the chief executive and the political requirement that candidates must “love the country and love Hong Kong” has torn the city apart.
In most democratic societies, retired government officials normally refrain from commenting on their successors.
But Tung Chee-hwa has just set a striking precedent.
Now a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s National Committee, he convened a high-profile news conference at the office of former chief executives two days after Leung Chun-ying delivered his third policy address last month.
Tung gave a thumbs up to the contents of the speech and Leung’s work.
His remarks were a polar opposite to the profound distrust and disconnect Hongkongers have shown in regard to the chief executive and his government in public opinion polls.
Tung has been a busy man since last year. Our Hong Kong Foundation, which he is spearheading, is now his top priority. It held its third plenary session last week.
The logo and Chinese name of the two-month-old foundation stress cohesion, with the slogan “we are one”, but it remains to be seen if it will deliver any concrete policy recommendations to ameliorate the city’s political and social woes.
The name is reminiscent of the Better Hong Kong Foundation, which has many business big shots on its board. But 20 years into its existence, that foundation’s work has apparently failed to leave any impression on the public.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal featured an editorial on Friday that said “western leaders have mostly stayed quiet about Beijing’s efforts to strangle Hong Kong’s freedoms. President Obama set the tone in November by saying, ‘These are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and the people of China to decide’ – as if the people of Hong Kong weren’t being denied the option to decide”.
Titled A Useful Hong Kong Rebuke, the editorial says that in contrast to state leaders’ attempts to downplay the issue for the sake of economic benefits from Beijing, some heavyweight US senators and congressmen have formed a bipartisan group to introduce the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will require the US State Department to report annually on Hong Kong.
The bill will update the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, under which the US government regards Hong Kong as a separate entity from China, allowing more flexible export controls, more liberal entry requirements and so on.
In the light of the annual review of Hong Kong’s situation, the bill will enable Washington to bar any new preferential treatment if the secretary of state cannot certify that “the city remains sufficiently autonomous from Beijing’s control”.
The editorial also suggests “Hong Kong could become a campaign issue in 2016” during the US presidential election.
Some observers may think that with renewed scrutiny from the US (Vice President Biden met with senior Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Martin Lee Chu-ming at the White House in April last year), Beijing may have some qualms about continuing to shrug off the pledges it made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and the Basic Law and that it may restrain itself from being too unscrupulous in stripping Hongkongers of the free vote and autonomy promised to them.
But I think otherwise: after Beijing refused to budge an inch throughout last year’s massive street protests in Hong Kong, it would be naïve to think that an act of the US Congress will bother it one bit.
Beijing now likes to flex its economic muscles, and the nouveau riche knows too well the power of money.
In the old days China relied on Hong Kong for international exchange and trade (including its purchases of sensitive materials), but now Beijing can take care of these on its own.
To Beijing, the new bill won’t be a threat at all.
However, to Hong Kong, the new law will be potentially more of a hindrance than a help. If the US revokes its favorable treatment of Hong Kong, the city will suffer a crippling slump in its international standing.
But that is something of little significance to Beijing, as it regards absolute allegiance as the basis of its policies toward Hong Kong.
I wonder if Tung’s foundation will discuss the new bill.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3.
Translation by Frank Chen
– Contact us at [email protected]