23 October 2016
Pan-democrat lawmakers call for another round of electoral reform consultation in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
Pan-democrat lawmakers call for another round of electoral reform consultation in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

CY Leung’s role in Beijing’s new plans for Hong Kong

China’s top leaders have set a new roadmap for Hong Kong as the former British colony approaches the second decade of its return to Chinese rule.

At the close of the fifth plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, the leaders issued a statement outlining the country’s goals for the next five years.

Noticeably dropped from the statement were the usual slogans of “one country, two systems”, “high degree autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” when referring to the territory.

Instead, the leaders pledged “to deepen the cooperation and development between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the mainland and Taiwan, and boost the function and position of Hong Kong and Macau in the nation’s economic development and opening up process”.

Beijing also vowed to continue its support for Hong Kong and Macau in developing their economy, improving livelihood, pushing democracy and encouraging harmony.

The statement is likely to raise concern that Beijing may be planning to get more involved in governing Hong Kong in a bid to promote political stability in the face of opposition from the pan-democratic camp.

While the party leaders lumped Hong Kong and Macau together in the statement, it should be noted that Macau has been fully embracing Beijing’s rule since its handover in 1999.

This means that as far as the political objectives are concerned, Beijing is referring to Hong Kong.

Thus, the document serves as a to-do list for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration.

His performance will be gauged on the basis of those goals and his accomplishments along those lines will ultimately determine if he will be given a chance to run for a second term.

Let’s go through them one by one.

Economic development: There’s no doubt that Beijing is determined to deepen its economic ties with Hong Kong. The continued enhancement of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement attests to this fact.

The Chinese leadership wants to take advantage of Hong Kong’s international financial market position to facilitate the nation’s economic transformation.

For example, it is riding on Hong Kong’s equity market to lure global investors and boost its own stock market, while pushing state-owned enterprises to go public to raise funds.

In short, Beijing is leveraging on the territory’s advantages to achieve its own goals in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Improving people’s livelihood: Beijing believes that social harmony is the foundation of economic development. That is why CY Leung, after his efforts to push Beijing’s electoral reform plan failed in June, sought to shift the focus to livelihood issues.

However, the lead-in-water crisis erupted, and the government’s already tarnished image suffered another heavy blow. 

Instead of accepting responsibility for the issue which has affected a number of public and private housing estates as well as school campuses, the administration tried to pass the blame to third-party contractors and play down the health hazards posed by the problem. 

As a result, public confidence and trust in the government declined further.

Pushing democracy: Political observers have linked the communist leaders’ pledge to push democracy in Hong Kong to its political reform plan.

After the pan-democrat lawmakers junked Beijing’s “universal suffrage” proposal for the 2017 chief executive election, it appears that the central authorities intend to go for another round of electoral reform consultation in the territory.

However, pan-democrats are not very optimistic. Beijing is not ready to abandon its own concept of universal suffrage, which is to maintain tight control over the candidates for the next Hong Kong leader under the “one person, one vote” principle.

Hong Kong people are insisting on an open and transparent nominating system that will allow them to choose their own leader, rather than choosing from candidates pre-selected by Beijing.

Given the huge gap between the two sides in the concept of universal suffrage, how can the Chief Executive hope to achieve the goal of pushing democracy in Hong Kong?

Encouraging harmony: Hong Kong people have developed a negative impression of the word “harmony” as they believe the government takes it to mean the absence of opposition to its policies and programs.

There should be no problem if the government can implement policies efficiently. But that would need capable administrators, instead of the current crop of leaders who have distinguished themselves for their incompetence and underperformance, and who have focused on political intrigues and treated the public as their enemies.

Still, 2017 is getting near, and we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Beijing may pick a new leader for Hong Kong to help achieve its four-point plan for the territory in the next five years.

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EJ Insight writer

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