27 October 2016
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa blames the pro-establishment camp for not working closely with the government. Photos: Bloomberg, Xinhua
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa blames the pro-establishment camp for not working closely with the government. Photos: Bloomberg, Xinhua

How ‘one country, two systems’ lost its meaning

Every time Leung Chun-ying is on leave, government officials, politicians and even a former chief executive would come out of the woodwork to speak out on how to run Hong Kong.

Right now, every one is speculating on whether or not Beijing will endorse CY Leung to run for a second term in the face of his unpopularity in both the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps.

One is tempted to ask: Who is running the government? Why are we all looking for signals from the north on who will be our next leader?

Under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong chief executive is appointed by the State Council, which means that his authority comes from the central government. There is argument about that.

But what is causing a lot of stress and consternation in the city is that the Hong Kong leader is made to serve two bosses, Beijing and the Hong Kong people, whose interests are not always in line with each other.

Just consider CY Leung’s “Belt and Road” scholarship scheme.

The chief executive wants to allocate HK$1 billion for the program, which seeks to attract students from the Belt and Road countries to study in Hong Kong and local students to study in those countries as part of efforts to promote President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road strategy to promote China’s economic growth.

The program has drawn much criticism because it is viewed as part of Leung’s game plan to gain the support of the central authorities so he could run for a second term.

He is also being criticized for seeking to spend money on foreign students, instead of funding programs for the benefit of Hong Kong people, especially the youth.

It will be recalled that Leung had been accused of asking businesses not to donate to local universities, saying they have more than enough funding and too many teaching staff.

Now he wants the government to spend money on foreign students.

For many observers, the scholarship scheme only shows that Leung is giving priority to China’s demands and his own interests at the expense of the people’s welfare.

So it is quite interesting to see Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who is the acting chief executive, trying to distance herself from the controversial scholarship scheme.

She hinted that the government will not be putting the Belt and Road scholarship scheme on the agenda of the Legislative Council’s finance committee anytime soon.

Instead, Lam said, the government must give priority to getting funding for its livelihood-related programs, as well as other proposals that are likely to be approved more easily.

Lam’s comments indicate that Leung’s own officials are not standing solidy behind his scholarship program.

And this again brings to fore the question about who is the real boss in Hong Kong: is it Beijing or the Beijing-appointed officials? 

It is clear that the Hong Kong leader is more concerned about obeying Beijing’s demands than in promoting the city’s interests, especially if there’s a conflict between the two.

Hong Kong people want a unique political and economic status that will allow them to seek their own destiny, instead of just becoming just another Chinese city.

On the other hand, Beijing wants to firmly establish its rule over the territory, and use Hong Kong to help promote its own interests.

And so we see Chinese officials and tycoons meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs, and more mainlanders coming to the territory to compete with locals in taking advantage of its resources.

In that sense, the whole concept of “one country, two systems” has lost its meaning.

Many Hong Kong people view it as an invasion of the territory, while Beijing looks at it as further integration of Hong Kong with the motherland.

Against this backdrop, we find it hard to understand why Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, is blaming the city’s lackluster development on weak local governance.

Tung is also blaming the pro-establishment camp for not working closely with the government, resulting in the rise of localism.

He urged the government to work more closely with political parties to reduce internal friction, promote effective governance and resolve livelihood issues.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong called on the government to join forces with the party and other pro-Beijing groups to carry out the responsibility of government.

In making the proposal, the DAB is apparently asking Beijing to make the chief executive share power with the leading pro-establishment political party in Hong Kong to rule the territory.

Perhaps party rule is the natural direction of Hong Kong politics. But it should only be implemented when both the chief executive and the Legislative Council are fully elected by Hong Kong people, not just by a small group of business and political elites.

If Beijing endorses such a plan before Hong Kong attains universal suffrage, the situation will not change for the better.

Beijing will continue to have the power to choose Hong Kong officials who will implement Beijing-endorsed policies.

It would be like Beijing sending its own team to run the Hong Kong government.

Is that Beijing’s idea of “one country, two systems”?

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EJ Insight writer

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