23 October 2016
A pro-establishment supporter holds a placard backing the creation of a technology bureau which Leung Chun-ying (inset) wants Legco to tackle before the summer recess. Photos: CNSA
A pro-establishment supporter holds a placard backing the creation of a technology bureau which Leung Chun-ying (inset) wants Legco to tackle before the summer recess. Photos: CNSA

Leung’s renewed push for tech bureau reeks of politics

Just weeks ago, Leung Chun-ying called for “constructive cooperation” with the Legislative Council on his livelihood agenda.

The move was seen as a fightback from the humiliating defeat of his election reform proposal and a gesture to rebuild ties with pan-democrats.

But hardly had the dust settled when Leung changed his mind.

Now he wants Legco to give priority to his controversial innovation and technology bureau, derailed by a pan-democrat filibuster earlier this year.

(Leung was accused of picking an ally to lead the agency as a political payoff). 

As expected, Leung’s change of heart is getting traction among his Legco friends but it’s riling up pan-democrats who want no part in his call for special sessions to tackle the proposal before the summer recess.

Given the short time it took him to push for livelihood projects in the legislative agenda and his turnaround to a discredited measure, we begin to wonder if there’s something else about him we don’t already know.

People do change their minds but they are not the unpopular leader of a polarized society that wants a break from too much politics and a chance to get on with their lives.

Leung is clearly trying to score political points, but with whom?

It gets clearer when we look at the innovation and technology bureau as an unfulfilled election promise.

It’s probably a half-forgotten item on his Hong Kong to-do list, but on Beijing’s checklist, it might look like a blot on his leadership.

Sure, Leung has not said publicly that he will seek reelection in 2017, but he has been behaving like a candidate already.

His recent actions — from his handling of last year’s democracy protests, his push for national education, his embrace of China’s new national security law and now the move to speed up his pet project — are less about governance than politics. He wants to look good to his bosses in Beijing.    

Theoretically, he has the most to gain from the collapse of the Beijing-backed electoral reform plan because now the formula reverts to the very system that installed him in 2012.

But 2012 feels like ages ago and the two years to the next election is a long time, which means things could be very different from Beijing’s perspective.

Already, there are tell-tale signs.

Last month, at the launch of the the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, President Xi Jinping gave Financial Secretary John Tsang a hearty handshake, which in the body language of the Communist Party speaks for itself.

Leung knows the significance of a presidential handshake. It proved to be a game changer in his bruising 2012 campaign against Henry Tang, the early favorite.  

Donald Tsang and Tung Chee-hwa, Leung’s predecessors, were similarly anointed. 

Leung is counting on Beijing loyalists to win this one fight that could help restore his luster in the eyes of Beijing.

But the Liberal Party, which usually votes with the establishment bloc, says most of its members will not be in Hong Kong for the extra sessions.

People Power is vowing to drag proceedings and the Professional Commons is warning that Leung is undermining what’s left of his tattered relations with some legislators.

Politics aside, there are practical issues involved in the creation of a new government bureau.

Funding, the crux of the Leung’s request for extra sittings, is just one of them.

The government has yet to convince the public about how this new agency is supposed to work and how it’s different from existing bodies that already serve the same function such as Hong Kong Science Park and Cyberport. 

What the government needs to do is create an environment in which investors and technology entrepreneurs can work together.

It does not need another layer in the bureucracy.

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EJ Insight writer

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