Date
8 December 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has shown to China's top leaders that he is reliable in promoting Beijing's interests in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has shown to China's top leaders that he is reliable in promoting Beijing's interests in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

How CY Leung maneuvered his return to the chief executive race

The High Court was set to hand down its judgement on Tuesday afternoon on whether two localists could be sworn in as legislators following Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law last week.

Legislators-elect Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang could still fight the court’s decision if the judgment followed the National People’s Congress Standing Commitee’s hard-line stance that those advocating Hong Kong independence has no place in the Legislative Council.

Nonetheless, Beijing’s reaction to the controversy has only proven the political astuteness of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Before the oath-taking issue emerged, the talk was that CY Leung was in danger of not getting Beijing’s blessing for a second term.

But CY Leung has successfully diverted public attention from the prospects of the likely candidates in next year’s chief executive election to the controversy over the swearing-in of the two localists.

It was CY Leung who condemned the two localists for “insulting” China and the Chinese people during their oath-taking, and it was he who initiated the filing of an application for a judicial review of the Basic Law as it pertains to the issue.

Thus, the NPCSC’s decision to act on the issue shows that CY Leung has succeeded in showing to Beijing that he, probably among all prospective CE candidates, is trustworthy to defend and protect China’s interests and most willing and able to support its position on matters concerning Hong Kong.

That being the case, he has shown to China’s top leaders that he is most deserving to continue in office as Hong Kong’s top leader.

In fact, Leung’s aggressive approach in dealing with the independence issue did help him to win more public support.

According to a recent survey conducted by Ming Pao Daily News, Leung’s support rate jumped 3.5 percentage points to 21.5 percent, up from 18 percent in the previous poll, although he still ranked last among six potential CE candidates.

On Monday state-owned Xinhua Television broadcast a pre-recorded interview with Leung on a wide range of Hong Kong issues.

During the show, Leung reitertated his pledge of loyalty to Beijing, adding that the SAR government would not allow independence advocates to “appear in the city’s political system”, including the Legislative Council and civil service, or spread their ideas in schools.

He also said only an extremely small number of people supported independence but they should not be indulged or taken lightly.

Such people, he said, should be handled “properly and in accordance with the law”.

That CY Leung and his Beijing masters are on the same wavelength is shown by the fact that the nation’s entire propaganda machinery has been busy lately in condemning independence advocates and separatists, as when China’s top leaders gathered to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Sun Yat-sen last week.

In his speech, President Xi Jinping for the first time reacted, even if indirectly, to the rise of Hong Kong independence, saying the nation will never allow any person, any group or any political party, at any time, in any way, to split from China any part of its territory.

With such strong and firm words from the Chinese leader himself, CY Leung is right on the money as far as speaking against the independence advocates in Hong Kong is concerned.

And so the game of next year’s election has been changed from whether a chief executive could solve the city’s festering problems to whether he or she could protect China’s sovereignty.

That also means there won’t be any break yet from the political squabbles and maneuverings over the past four years since Leung assumed office in 2012.

Right now it feels as if there is a massive campaign for independence in Hong Kong, led by its young advocates.

But the truth is only a handful of candidates used independence, separatism or localism as their election platform when they ran in the Legco election.

The don’t have the resources to form their own military to achieve Hong Kong independence or protect its sovereignty. They also lack a roadmap on how to overthrow the Beijing-backed authorities in the territory.

These youngsters apparently only want to express their anger at Beijing’s efforts to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.

Their main aim is to keep Hong Kong’s identity unique from that of the rest of China and to hold Beijing to its promise of maintaining a high degree of autonomy in the territory.

Those objectives are certainly not the same as advocating Hong Kong independence.

Yet it is to CY Leung’s advantage that Hong Kong is now immersed in the issue of independence.

In its interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law, the NPCSC stressed that an oath of office must be taken “sincerely” and “solemnly”, thus expanding the interpretation to cover not only the two localist legislators-election but all legislators, all judges and justices, and officials of Hong Kong –past, present and future.

By laying down the criteria for a proper oath-taking, the NPCSC has introduced new elements into the Basic Law, and added Chinese legal concepts to Hong Kong laws.

With Leung’s advocacy against Hong Kong independence, Beijing was able to change Hong Kong’s legal landscape from the rule of law to rule by law.

The collapse of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary has happened.

At least we now know Beijing’s red line. We now know that having a high degree autonomy is not the same as having an independent judiciary.

For all that, Beijing owes a lot of thanks to CY Leung, who has courageously waged the campaign against independence, even at a time when it was still outside the psyche of Hong Kong people, even when it just in an obscure article in a student union’s publication.

Because of CY Leung’s persistence, and thanks to mass media’s promotion, the issue has now swept Hong Kong, paving the way for Beijing to further tighten its grip on the territory.

Thanks to CY Leung, the criteria for the next chief executive is no longer competence or leadership but, first and foremost, abiding loyalty to Beijing.

With his blind loyalty and ability to firmly execute Beijing’s orders, Leung has returned to the chief executive race with a vengeance.

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SC/AC/CG

EJ Insight writer

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