24 October 2018
Hong Kong's new leader Carrie Lam greets citizens during a visit to a local community. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong's new leader Carrie Lam greets citizens during a visit to a local community. Photo: HKEJ

Helping society find common ground is the key

The messages brought by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his three-day visit to Hong Kong last week can be summed up as a carrot and stick approach.

During a speech at the inauguration ceremony of Hong Kong’s new administration on July 1, Xi stressed in no uncertain terms that “One Country” is the foundation of relations between Beijing and Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong should do a better job in safeguarding national sovereignty and security as well as facilitating national economic development.

In his speech, Xi laid down two red lines: the first one is that Beijing will not tolerate any challenge to its constitutional power and to the authority of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. And the second is that Beijing will absolutely not allow Hong Kong to become a base for supporting any form of subversive activities on Chinese soil.

However, apart from the “stick”, Xi actually spent more time on “carrot” in his speech. For example, he said “One Country Two Systems” is the embodiment of the heart and soul of Chinese culture, because the ground-breaking idea proposed by former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping allows people to “find the biggest possible common ground despite their huge differences”.

He then went on to say that he is not bothered at all by the fact that people in Hong Kong often have different or even conflicting views on various key issues because the city is a “pluralistic society”. What really bothers him, he stressed, is the never-ending politicization of social and economic issues as well as mounting man-made political confrontation in our society.

He urged Hong Kong people to focus on the “big picture” and settle their differences through rational dialogue and consensus-building, warning that social divisions and polarization will work against economic development.

Particularly, Xi indicated that the central government would be willing to open up dialogue with any individual or political group in Hong Kong regardless of their political views as long as they love their country and Hong Kong, as well as faithfully support “One Country Two Systems”.

We often hear people say “finding the biggest possible common ground despite small differences”, but why did President Xi put it differently in his speech by replacing “small differences” with “huge differences”?

While there are a lot of different interpretations out there over the last couple of days, we believe perhaps Xi might have been trying to send us a goodwill message by putting the ancient Chinese proverb in a slightly different way: as long as the people in Hong Kong don’t cross some red lines, Beijing has a great deal of tolerance for dissenting voices in the city and that a door for constructive dialogue is always open.

So how exactly can the people of Hong Kong seek “the biggest possible common ground despite their huge differences”, as Xi has called upon them to do? Perhaps we can draw lessons from the past and look for some insights by reflecting on the five-year rule of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

In retrospect, we believe the root cause for the deep social divisions and acute confrontation among political groups under CY Leung’s rule is probably that there was too much “blind loyalty” and “blind opposition” both in society and in our legislature.

While the so-called Leung fans insisted that whatever Leung said was right, the opposition contended that whatever Leung proposed was wrong. Worse still, both sides were unwilling to take the first step in breaking the ice and opening up rational dialogue, not to mention that the pan-democrats were getting increasingly personal when it came to opposing Leung.

As a result, confrontation between the pro-Leung and anti-Leung camps continued to escalate and the legislature was basically paralyzed due to persisting partisan gridlock over the past five years.

It wasn’t until Leung announced in December last year that he wouldn’t seek a second term that the tense political atmosphere in the city began to ease off a little bit and public grievances began to subside.

As the new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is determined to cast off the shadow of her predecessor and do things her way, it will definitely help mending fences in society.

Just a couple of days into office, Lam has not only demonstrated a common touch by reaching out to the community, she has also decided to overrule some of the highly controversial policy initiatives put forward by her predecessor, including those related to an MPF offsetting mechanism, in the absence of consensus among major stakeholders.

So far both the public and the pan-democrats seem to quite welcome the refreshing changes in governing approach introduced by Lam. The former civil servant has after a long time received more “likes” than “dislikes” on social media from netizens, and she was no longer greeted by protesters.

We believe the key to helping people in our city seek the biggest possible common ground despite their huge differences is by accommodating different views through rational and constructive discussions.

Pan-democratic lawmakers should ditch their “blind opposition” mindset and avoid getting personal when exercising their oversight powers, while the pro-establishment camp should also jettison their “blind loyalty” and start calling it as they see it when it comes to casting their votes on government policy initiatives in Legco.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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