Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), recently assigned a new role to Hong Kong — “go global” along with the mainland under the “One Belt, One Road” strategy.
Perhaps the only people in this city who can execute his order properly and effectively are the political trio of Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yuk-sing, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
While Jasper Tsang and Lam can take care of the domestic affairs of the city, John Tsang can act as Hong Kong’s ambassador to the world.
These three people, like anyone else, have their own advantages and disadvantages, but together they can complement one another and form a collective leadership that can at least guarantee that the social, political and economic conditions of this city won’t continue to deteriorate in the years ahead.
From the time the People’s Republic of China was founded, Beijing adopted a rather pragmatic approach to Hong Kong: make the most of the advantages of the city to serve China’s best interests, mainly in the economic sense, while ideological differences were put aside.
In the eyes of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, the advantages of Hong Kong were its position as an international trading and financial hub, its highly efficient administrative system and its rule of law.
It wasn’t until 2003, when 500,000 Hongkongers took to the streets to say no to the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law, that Beijing began to change its approach to our city.
Since then, Beijing has adopted a much more aggressive and intrusive policy toward Hong Kong that is aimed at bringing its people into line, to transform the city politically and ideologically, and to enforce its assimilation into the motherland, a radical departure from its formerly pragmatic and moderate path.
The discontent among the people of Hong Kong with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive interference reached its peak when the NPCSC announced its “831 resolution”, which denied them universal suffrage in the 2017 election for chief executive.
The unpopular decision triggered the monumental Occupy movement, which raised the political awareness of an entire generation and changed the local political landscape forever.
Beijing’s tough stance and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s relentless crackdown might have rendered the Occupy movement fruitless, but they also unexpectedly gave rise to a nativism spearheaded by young, valorous social activists — and even separatism, a political theme that had never been a legitimate subject for public discussion in mainstream society in Hong Kong before.
Noticing that the rise of nativism and even separatist sentiment in the territory could spin out of control if left unchecked, Beijing has once again adjusted its policy on Hong Kong and started becoming more pragmatic and flexible.
One significant indication of Beijing’s policy adjustment toward Hong Kong is that during Zhang’s visit last month, he ditched his signature confrontational tone and tried to placate Hongkongers by, for the first time, acknowledging the unique and irreplaceable advantages of the city, which, he stressed, would prove instrumental in helping the mainland achieve the “One Belt, One Road” strategy.
He also asserted that Hong Kong would always remain an indispensable partner to the mainland in going global, because the city’s role as a bridge between China and the rest of the world is unique.
It seems Beijing has, at least for now, come to terms with the fact that the people of Hong Kong embrace a very different set of values from those of their mainland counterparts.
This political reality can’t be changed in the foreseeable future and might not necessarily be a bad thing for the country, because the longer Hong Kong stays that way, the longer it can continue to serve as China’s window to the world.
Political intimidation and forced assimilation will now give way to accommodation, co-operation and dialogue as Beijing’s politically expedient solution to the social and political deadlock in Hong Kong.
To fulfill Hong Kong’s newly assigned role as the global gateway to China under its “One Belt, One Road” strategy, Beijing needs somebody to lead the city who can act as a lubricant across the local political spectrum and help different factions find common ground.
Jasper Tsang appears to be exactly that kind of person.
Experienced, resourceful, diplomatic, profound and sophisticated, Tsang is among the handful of political figures in Hong Kong who is fully trusted by Beijing on one hand, and who is also accepted by the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp on the other.
Jasper Tsang, John Tsang and Carrie Lam could be the ideal team to bring Hong Kong back on track.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 2.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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