16 February 2019
Pro-democracy activists celebrate during a rally after Leung Chun-ying announced he will not seek a second term. Photo: AFP
Pro-democracy activists celebrate during a rally after Leung Chun-ying announced he will not seek a second term. Photo: AFP

Why Beijing gave up on CY Leung

For the vast majority of Hong Kong people who are fed up with the intense confrontations and polarization in society under the rule of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, his announcement that he will not seek a second term is definitely good news.

It might also prove a blessing in disguise for CY Leung himself.

Almost immediately after he declared his withdrawal from the race, the Hong Kong and Macau Office issued an official statement holding him in high regard, and praising him for the accomplishments of his administration and his rock-solid faith in One Country, Two Systems.

The statement also said the central government hopes that he will continue to exert positive influence in Hong Kong and national affairs in the days ahead.

Since Beijing rarely spoke so highly of an outgoing chief executive in the past, it might suggest that Leung could follow in former chief executive Tung Chee-wah’s footsteps and be promoted to the rank of national leaders such as deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

While the surprising news of Leung’s withdrawal is still sinking in, many have begun to ask: why did Beijing suddenly ditch CY Leung, who everybody knows was dying to have a second term?

As I put it in my previous article, despite Leung being an unrepentant Beijing loyalist, his heavy-handedness in carrying out Beijing’s orders over the past four years has often provoked strong public backlashes, and has taken its toll on the credibility and effectiveness of Beijing’s policy initiatives.

Quite to Beijing’s dismay, Leung has a tendency to overdo whatever task is given to him and stir up controversy unnecessarily.

That said, I believe the underlying reason why Beijing wants to replace Leung with someone else is not because the central government is drastically adjusting its policy towards Hong Kong, but simply because it thinks Leung is increasingly getting out of touch with the ever-changing political reality and therefore cannot be entrusted with the important task of running Hong Kong for another five years.

Since the July 1 rally back in 2003, Beijing has replaced its former policy of non-intervention with high-profile and active interference in our city’s affairs.

After CY Leung took office in 2012, his confrontational and hawkish approach has rapidly eroded the foundation of trust and harmony in Hong Kong.

Worse still, his ruthless and indiscriminate crackdown on the opposition (such as the ongoing legal challenge against four more pro-democracy lawmakers), his failure to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of Hong Kong and Beijing, as well as his tendency to give overwhelming priority to “one country” over “two systems” have alienated not only the radicals, but also the moderate wing of the pro-democracy camp.

Apparently, Leung’s hard-line approach regardless of the scope of collateral damage is not in line with Beijing’s carrot-and-stick policy towards Hong Kong.

In fact, Beijing has no intention whatsoever to annihilate the entire pro-democracy camp.

Beijing is well aware that in order to get things done, it has to cooperate with the pan-democrats under certain circumstances.

In the meantime, given the increasingly volatile international environment, such as Donald Trump’s anti-Beijing stance and the uncertain future of the European Union, Hong Kong’s role as China’s window to the world is now more important than ever.

However, Hong Kong’s role as China’s only international financial hub will definitely be undermined if its political turmoil continues.

It is against this international background that CY Leung, who lacks both international vision and connections, and who is so hated by the people of Hong Kong, is deemed by Beijing no longer fit to lead our city for another five years.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 14.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe