18 February 2019
In the eyes of top communist leaders like Zhang Dejiang (center), Leung Chun-ying (right) is a loyal party stalwart who has stood the test of time and did not budge an inch at the height of the Occupy movement. Photo: Reuters
In the eyes of top communist leaders like Zhang Dejiang (center), Leung Chun-ying (right) is a loyal party stalwart who has stood the test of time and did not budge an inch at the height of the Occupy movement. Photo: Reuters

Why Leung may be around for a little longer

The only highlight of Zhang Dejiang’s three-day visit to Hong Kong last week was probably the unprecedentedly high-profile and world-class anti-terrorist security measures mounted by the police.

Other than that, there is basically nothing worth mentioning about the trip by the head of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Apart from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his subordinates, who must be feeling proud of the six-star hospitality they provided for their boss from Beijing, the only people in our city who were exhilarated by Zhang’s visit were probably the four pan-democratic lawmakers who were granted a “historic” 40-minute audience with the state leader.

In fact, at the news conference after their meeting with Zhang, the four pan-democrats just couldn’t hide their excitement about that absolutely rare honor.

However, as far as the general public is concerned, there was nothing about Zhang’s trip to be excited about at all.

And the fact that these pan-democratic lawmakers, who always hold their head high and speak in a self-righteous tone when grilling government officials in the Legislative Council on public issues, were so carried away by their humble audience with Zhang suggests that they are after all mere mortals who long for the attention of those in power.

The vast majority of the public in Hong Kong had no illusions whatsoever about Zhang’s visit, because, after what they had been through over the past few years, they knew only too well that it wouldn’t make any difference as far as Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong is concerned.

The trip itself and Zhang’s meeting with those pan-democrats were nothing more than a carefully prepared publicity stunt to create an impression that Beijing is easing off politically by extending the olive branch to the pan-democrats and is willing to listen to the views of the people of Hong Kong, when in fact it is not.

Beijing has remained as tough and as uncompromising as ever toward our city before and after Zhang’s trip.

On Wednesday last week, Zhang said in front of the cameras right after he had got off his plane that he was here in Hong Kong to “see, listen and talk”.

However, that turned out to be rather ironic, because wherever he went he was surrounded by hundreds of police officers and G4 special agents, and all the places he visited were declared off-limits, not only to protesters but also to ordinary citizens, and it strains my mind to try to figure out how he could see anything or listen to anyone at all.

Even more ironic is that, on one hand, Zhang stressed on several occasions during his visit that no one is above the law under any circumstances and urged the city’s government and the judiciary to bring those who preach separatism to justice, but, on the other, his convoy was caught on camera rolling down the road in the opposite direction to normal traffic flow on several occasions.

What he and his entourage did during the trip speaks volumes about his notion of the rule of law.

During Zhang’s visit, rumor has it, he gave Financial Seretary John Tsang Chun-wah a lot of attention at an internal briefing, and that Leung appeared rather unsettled when the pan-democrats asked Zhang to replace him in his presence.

Soon after Zhang completed his trip and left Hong Kong, there has been talk that Leung has fallen out of favor with Beijing and that his chances of getting re-elected are quickly diminishing.

Such views sound more like wishful thinking than serious analysis to me, and those who gave these views simply demonstrated a poor understanding of the communist mindset.

It is because the last thing Beijing would ever do is bow to public pressure and risk losing face in front of the entire world, especially on such important issues as choosing the next chief executive.

So, the more intense public pressure on Beijing to replace Leung, the more likely Beijing will continue to stand by him.

To most of us, Leung may come across as incompetent and unpopular, but Beijing doesn’t necessarily see it that way, because it has different concerns.

In the eyes of our top Communist leaders, Leung might not be doing his job particularly well, but at least he is a loyal party stalwart who has stood the test of time and did not budge an inch at the height of the Occupy movement.

And despite the fact that our society has witnessed striking polarization under Leung’s rule, the overall economic and business environment in Hong Kong has remained largely stable and robust.

Besides, while replacing Leung or banning him from seeking re-election won’t help much in alleviating the political and social tensions in Hong Kong right now, it might risk emboldening the pan-democrats, the indigenous factions, or even the separatists, and further alienating the already disaffected pro-establishment camp.

Given all that, I don’t see there is enough reason for Beijing to ditch Leung at this point.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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