18 August 2019
Having retired judge Woo Kwok-hing as the chief executive of Hong Kong may help enhance international confidence in its rule of law. Photo: HKEJ
Having retired judge Woo Kwok-hing as the chief executive of Hong Kong may help enhance international confidence in its rule of law. Photo: HKEJ

Fortune may yet smile on retired judge Woo

Despite the fact that lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung’s recent bid has added more variables to the upcoming CE election, it hasn’t fundamentally changed the situation. Former financial secretary John Tsang remains the pan-democrats’ favorite and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing may emerge as a dark horse in the election.

So far, the pro-democracy members of the Election Committee, the so-called “300+”, have remained unchanged over their strategy: they are going to endorse both Woo and Tsang and make them official candidates.

Some might argue that Woo lacks administrative experience and doesn’t know how the government bureaucracy works, a weakness that would put him at a huge disadvantage compared with the three other CE contenders, all of whom have spent decades in the civil service during their careers.

Ironically, however, the fact that Woo hasn’t spent a day in the civil service throughout his career might indeed turn out to be his unique strength.

Since he has never taken part in making any controversial or unpopular policy unlike his three rivals, it would be almost impossible for his political opponents to dig dirt on him.

Besides, as a judge who has been above politics throughout his life, Woo’s integrity and incorruptibility are undisputed, making him virtually immune to any politically motivated smear campaign. At this moment, nobody can rule out entirely his chances of getting elected, even though he remains a long shot.

As far as John Tsang is concerned, he might appear to be the golden boy in the eyes of the pan-democrats and also the general public given that he is leading in basically every poll.

The problem is, it is an open secret that Beijing doesn’t trust Tsang. The fact that it took Beijing more than a month to approve his resignation as financial secretary and give him the green light to run spoke volumes about Beijing’s position on him.

Beijing also has a lot of reservations about Tsang’s ability to come to grips with the increasingly complicated and delicate political situation in Hong Kong, particularly after the so-called “fish ball” revolution last year, which Beijing believes was a conspiracy between hostile foreign powers and local separatists.

However, most pan-democrats have been deliberately overlooking these issues and continuing to support Tsang because as the old saying goes, people often tend to believe what they want to believe.

On the other hand, local politicians across the political spectrum also seem to have simultaneously turned a blind eye to the fact that Woo’s bold roadmap toward universal suffrage, which has skillfully skirted the “831 Resolution”, hasn’t drawn any criticism from Beijing’s official mouthpieces, suggesting his plan could be taken seriously by Beijing.

I suspect Woo’s political reform proposal was not his brainchild at all. It was a carefully prepared script handed to him by Beijing.

In fact, allowing a judge to become the chief executive of Hong Kong can help enhance international confidence in the rule of law, a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s status as a global trade, financial and arbitration hub.

Our common law system, which has been fully integrated with that of the rest of the world, makes Hong Kong an irreplaceable component in President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy.

Who is more qualified than Woo in ensuring that Hong Kong can continue to fulfill that fundamental role?

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

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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