16 February 2019
Antony Leung (left)'s recent remarks on replacing Cantonese with Putonghua as a school subject drew fire from all sides. CY Leung (right)’s emphasis on "Belt and Road” failed to resonate with the public. Photo: HKEJ
Antony Leung (left)'s recent remarks on replacing Cantonese with Putonghua as a school subject drew fire from all sides. CY Leung (right)’s emphasis on "Belt and Road” failed to resonate with the public. Photo: HKEJ

Has Beijing changed its taste for the next chief executive?

At a recent public seminar on professional development in schools, former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung wowed the audience by declaring he was making a “comeback” and would focus on education policies.

However, when asked whether it was just a prelude to a campaign to run for chief executive in 2017, he denied it outright.

Of course, anyone with the least political sense would at best take his denial with a grain of salt, since the words “I have no plan to run for CE right now” have become such a cliché that no one would take them seriously any more.

Whatever politicians or public figures say, they can just go back on their word the very next day with no shortage of justification.

As far as Leung is concerned, it sounds perfectly logical that he intends to make a major political comeback by weighing in on education policy issues first, because he started his political career back in the late 1990s as chairman of the Education Commission.

It was during his term that he proposed drastic changes to the secondary school curriculum to enhance the capacity of students for independent thinking.

Unfortunately, Leung seems to have started off badly this time.

He put his foot in his mouth during the discussion by suggesting that the subject Chinese language be taught in Putonghua in all local secondary schools, because Cantonese is not necessarily the mother tongue of every ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong.

Despite the possibility that his words may have been quoted completely out of context by reporters afterward, his remarks about banning Cantonese in Chinese lessons immediately put him under fire from basically all sides, as the vast majority of the public is against any suggestion that Cantonese take a backseat to Putonghua in schools.

Many believe he made his suggestion to please Beijing, which in recent years has been making painstaking efforts to curb the use of Cantonese in southern provinces, so as to achieve national language unification.

In other controversial remarks, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has recently shown every sign of being determined to seek a second term, delivered his fourth annual policy address earlier this month.

Before that, many had predicted his policy address this year would amount to his re-election platform and that he would give out substantial sweeteners to please the public and gain popularity to pave his way for re-election.

However, much to everyone’s surprise, or dismay, Leung spent several pages of his policy address pitching the “One Belt, One Road” strategy laid down by President Xi Jinping.

Among the most controversial measures is his proposal to earmark HK$1 billion (US$130 million) to subsidize foreign students from countries along the trade routes covered by the strategy to study in Hong Kong.

Many people were puzzled by the unusual and enormous emphasis Leung put on a largely diplomatic strategic plan that has very little to do with the day-to-day lives of the overwhelming majority of the people of Hong Kong.

In fact, most people in our city either don’t have a clue about what “One Belt One Road” is or simply couldn’t care less about it.

Obviously, Leung’s emphasis on “One Belt One Road” failed to resonate with the vast majority of the public.

Having said that, I would infer that Leung’s latest policy address was intended for the ears of Beijing rather than the people of Hong Kong.

The fact that two political heavyweights in Hong Kong have simultaneously said things that are seemingly intended to please Beijing begs the question: does that signal a change in Beijing’s “taste” for the next chief executive?

Does that indicate that when it comes to the choices for the next chief executive, Beijing now favors yes men who are only too eager to toe its line, rather than people who are really focused on improving the livelihood of the people of Hong Kong ?

If my inference is correct, it will spell disaster for Hong Kong.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 28.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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