As he prepares to hand over the reins of power in about two months, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is making it clear that his main focus now is to bolster his credentials in the eyes of Beijing.
Following his appointment in March as a vice chairman of the mainland’s top political advisory body — a post which he will keep after stepping down as Hong Kong’s CE — Leung is beginning to see himself more as a Chinese state leader rather than anything else.
This is evident from his stepped-up nationalist act, promoting causes and projects that are geared more to serving the needs of China rather than Hong Kong.
Thus, we are subject to endless hype about the Greater Bay Area initiative, a plan pushed by Beijing for closer economic integration between Hong Kong, Macau and China’s Guangdong province.
After organizing a trip of lawmakers, Leung said his administration will facilitate more tours to Guangdong to allow different sectors of Hong Kong gain better understanding of China’s new plan.
In a blog post published on Tuesday, Leung also wrote about the achievements of two infrastructure projects in the Greater Bay Area.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge was finally connected, Leung noted, adding that a related tunnel will be through later this year. Meanwhile, he also pointed out that a Shenzhen-Zhongshan bridge kicked off construction work on Monday.
“With more and more major infrastructure projects set to be completed… that could shorten the traveling time for Hong Kong people to the cities in the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong people could see massive changes in their way of life as well as in career prospects,” Leung wrote.
“We are so proud of China’s planning for the prosperity era.”
Leung also reiterated that the Greater Bay Area plan, under which Hong Kong will see closer links with Macau and nine mainland cities, will provide many opportunities for Hong Kong.
Many foreign government leaders and entrepreneurs have expressed interest in the plan, especially with regard to the “bridging” role that Hong Kong will play, Leung claimed.
For Hong Kong to realize all the benefits, businesses as well as people from across society will need to participate in the initiative, he said, adding that government efforts alone won’t be enough.
“For cooperation between Hong Kong and cities in the Greater Bay Area to really work we can’t just rely on the government’s lead. We need different people in society, especially those from the economic, commerce, and financial sectors, and professionals.”
Now, Leung may be right in championing closer integration in the southern China region, but what is disconcerting is that he seems to be lining up on the side of the mainland rather than Hong Kong.
He has, in fact, begun to praise Guangdong while criticizing Hong Kong.
During his recent visit to the Greater Bay Area, Leung, for instance, said Hong Kong cannot escape blame for smog pollution in Guangdong province.
Pollution is a two-way process, he said, asserting that winds blowing from south could be causing pollution in Guangdong, just as one might say that winds from the north are affecting Hong Kong air quality.
Experts, including a former chief of the Hong Kong Observatory, have slammed Leung’s comments, saying there was little scientific basis to his claims.
Following the criticism, Leung tried to walk back his remarks, claiming that he had merely echoed the views of a Guangdong official on the issue of cross-border pollution.
However, he failed to make it clear whether he agreed with the Chinese official’s views or not, and did little to defend Hong Kong from the blame in relation to Guangdong’s air pollution.
After Leung’s clarification attempt, Under Secretary for Environment Christine Loh defended the chief executive, saying the criticism of the Hong Kong leader was unfair.
Earlier, Leung saw some of his cabinet members rush to his defense on other issues, including the appeals in relation to the Greater Bay Area initiative.
Some of the arguments touted in favor of the mainland plan were flimsy, to say the least.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan, for example, has said that Hongkongers will be able to enjoy hot springs in Enping in Bay Area in future and that they won’t need to travel to Japan for such facilities.
Given the political and economic realities, Hong Kong officials appear to be convinced that it will be in the city’s best interests to walk the path outlined by Beijing.
As for Leung, he seems to feel that he has added responsibility now, as a state leader, to promote the central government’s policies.
Appointed in March as a vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Leung seems keen to build his political chops by promoting the Greater Bay Area theme in earnest.
If he does the job well, he may get promoted to a higher position — this thought could well be on Leung’s mind.
But what Leung is forgetting is that he is, as of now, still the chief executive of Hong Kong, and that his main duty is to protect and defend the interests of the city, rather than work for the mainland.
Instead of proceeding with caution, he is blindly encouraging Hong Kong to fall in line with China’s regional development plan, on which there are still no concrete details.
Such efforts can only undermine Hong Kong’s economic independence in the long run.
If Hong Kong is to maintain its status as an international financial center, wouldn’t it be better if the local government maintained a distance from Chinese projects mainly driven for political reasons?
This is something that Leung needs to ask himself.
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