26 October 2016
Barnabus Fung Wah (seen with CY Leung in inset picture) has been accused of going the extra mile to please the political bosses in Beijing. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ
Barnabus Fung Wah (seen with CY Leung in inset picture) has been accused of going the extra mile to please the political bosses in Beijing. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ

China cadre evaluation system comes to Hong Kong

Is Mainland China’s cadre evaluation system operating in Hong Kong?

Given that the existence of this system and its criteria for evaluating the massive bureaucracy is shrouded in secrecy across the border, it is difficult to tell whether it is being used here. That said, there is mounting evidence that some form of this pernicious system has indeed taken hold.

There is no single smoking gun here but a good place to start looking for evidence may be at the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), headed by the judge Barnabus Fung Wah. His job seems innocuous, little more than a series of bureaucratic tasks aimed at ensuring the smooth conduct of elections.

However the very thought of elections is high up on the list of sensitive words keeping mainland officials on their toes. Therefore the work of the EAC is of great interest to whoever it is down there in Western who looks after these things.

That person may well also be charged with what is evidently one of the primary political tasks of the day: quashing Hong Kong’s nascent localist and separatist movements. It is, incidentally, very hard to exaggerate the general level of paranoia in Beijing over any hint of separatism within the Communist Party’s sprawling empire.

Therefore Hong Kong officials, be they in the civil service itself or operating within a statutory body, are expected to be part of the massive effort to expunge this particular virus from the local political system. This is why everyone who is part of the system, not least CY Leung, makes it a point to speak about this frequently and issue dire warnings of the consequences of what used to be called ‘splitism’, in the weird English translations of the stilted Chinese terminology of Maoist orthodoxy.

Justice Fung has clearly taken this onboard and as we saw in the recent Legco by-election, went so far as to bring in the ICAC to investigate breaches of election law by localists posting material on the internet, and then got the post office to censor distribution of the localist candidates’ election materials.

Now he is on a wider stage and has got his purportedly independent commission to issue an edict requiring candidates to sign a pledge upholding clauses of the Basic Law relating to Hong Kong’s inalienable status within the People’s Republic, despite the fact that they already have to acknowledge acceptance of the law as a whole. It should however be noted that even this is unnecessary as no citizen is above the law and has to abide by all the laws of the SAR.

Challenged to identify the legal basis for this new requirement for election candidates, Fung insists it is there but has failed to identify where such a basis is to be found, retreating behind a fence where bureaucratic imperatives are cited as justification.

None of this really matters in the big picture because Fung, a well known trustee in Beijing’s eyes, is firmly establishing himself as someone who will go  is, of course, not alone: across Hong Kong minor and big league functionaries have busied themselves thinking up ways to follow suit.

They range from the absurd attempts by postal officials to expunge post boxes with colonial emblems, to the dunderheads at the airport who have done their best to ensure that passengers will not be troubled by stores selling books banned on the mainland.

And then there is the farcical sight of officials lining up to pledge allegiance to Xi Jinping’s current favorite pet project, the “one belt, one road” scheme.

Most outrageous however is the way in which the former police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung set about politicizing the police force and using it to target the government’s opponents.

Under the cadre evaluation system officials get high marks for following up on Beijing’s latest campaign or initiative. The evaluations they receive from their superiors are make or break for their careers.

However in the Kafkaesque world of the Chinese bureaucracy no one can be quite sure how the system works. They are just chillingly told that they should know what to do. Cadres therefore tend to operate on the basis that it is safest and best for their careers not only to follow the party line but to show enthusiasm for it and, where possible, to be seen making that extra bit of effort to be, as the Maoists used to say, “redder than red”.

The idea that the cadre evaluation system operates in Hong Kong will be vigorously denied by the usual suspects. They will say, as they stated in response to bookseller Lam Wing kee’s allegations about his seizure and detention on the mainland, that this is all rumor and that there is no documentary evidence.

We can be pretty sure that documentary evidence of the cadre evaluation system in Hong Kong is non-existent, yet reality reflects what is happening and why those who wish to prosper under the new order will have carefully learned what they have to do to get ahead.

People like Justice Fung and Andy Tsang can invite criticism on many grounds but never on their lack of perception of what it takes to please the masters in Beijing.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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