Donald Tsang, patriotism and HKU - it’s all about politics

October 09, 2015 11:55
It's all about politics: Donald Tsang is prosecuted, senior Beijing cadres order Hongkongers to be more patriotic, and HKU council chairman Edward Leong says he came under no pressure. Photos: HKEJ, HK govt, Commercial Radio

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was charged Monday with two counts of misconduct in public office.

He is accused of failing to declare he had been in negotiations to rent a luxury flat from a major shareholder of a radio broadcaster when the firm’s license application was discussed in the Executive Council.

Tsang is also accused of failing to declare a conflict of interest when he recommended for the award of a government honor the architect who was hired to design the flat's interior.

Tsang’s other hotly rumored potential offenses -- such as attending sumptuous banquets in Macau hosted by casino operators, taking trips on board tycoons’ private yachts and jets, accepting expensive wines and a treadmill as gifts -- were not addressed by the graft-busting agency.

All these shenanigans were probably too trivial to support formal charges.

Prosecution a move toward “de-Britishization”

Tsang’s wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, the former “first lady”, read out a 200-word statement amid the glare and din of media coverage outside the Eastern Magistrates' Courts, stressing that the couple's original wish was "to have a life of peaceful retirement and stay away from politics, but [they] are now bogged down in a vortex of political rifts”.

Surely her words have much hidden between the lines.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung denied there were political considerations in Tsang’s case, saying his department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption needed time to carry out their work, including seeking advice from overseas Queen's Counsel, and the decision is “free from any pressure or interference”.

Like many, I do not buy Yuen’s argument.

I had the foreboding years ago that one key aspect of Beijing’s mandate to “de-Britishize” Hong Kong was to prove that the group of elites groomed and promoted by the colonial authorities -- administrative officers in particular -- was not free from scandals or corruption.

To Beijing, it would be ideal to find evidence to charge these figures and put some of them behind bars as vivid examples to convince people that, contrary to the prevailing nostalgia, British rule and the officials it cultivated were not that clean and upright.

Be more patriotic, orders Beijing

Sun Chunlan (孫春蘭), head of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and a member of the Politburo, visited Hong Kong on the same day Tsang was prosecuted.

She summoned many of the local business leaders to her hotel, the Grand Hyatt, for a 30-minute, closed-door meeting cum breakfast.

The list included Robert Kuok Hock-nien, founder of Kerry Group and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts; Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, Li Ka-shing’s elder son and vice chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. (00001.HK); Henry Cheng Kar-shun, chairman of New World Development Co. Ltd. (00017.HK); Peter Lee Ka-kit, vice chairman of Henderson Land Development Co. Ltd. (00012.HK); and Robert Ng Chee-siong, chairman of Sino Group.

The South China Morning Post, controlled by Kerry Group, reported that Sun exhorted the tycoons “to be more patriotic”.

In a speech at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of China's victory over Japan in World War II and Taiwan’s recovery from enemy occupation, Sun also urged the young people of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to “love the country and shoulder their common national responsibilities”.

She said, “any disputes can be resolved, as national recognition and unity will continue to bind people in Hong Kong and the mainland together”.

At the same function, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Hongkongers should have “a sense of national security” to safeguard territorial integrity and national interests, which are the “foundations of Hong Kong’s prosperity”.

No one will heed Leung’s call for “a sense of national security”, and Sun’s lip service to unity and cohesion sounds too ironic, given that Hong Kong’s society is being torn apart.

Virtually no sector -- be it politics, the business community, academia or the judiciary -- is not plagued with endless, bitter kerfuffles and infighting, in which one must choose between having a clear conscience and being politically correct.

What’s right and what’s safe at HKU

There is a stark contrast between reported comments by two top figures at the University of Hong Kong on the long-delayed appointment of a pro vice chancellor.

President and vice chancellor Peter Mathieson told Reuters before the HKU council's decision that his personal emails relating to the saga had been hacked into and that some had been published in pro-Beijing media. 

He said he could not rule out the possibility that Beijing was behind the episode.

(After the council had voted to deny former HKU law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun the appointment, Mathieson stated his respect for the council's decision.)

However, HKU council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung insisted he had been under no pressure, none whatsoever, throughout the entire process.

I wonder how many people will believe him.

A well-known and respected surgeon who graduated from HKU, Leong has served in many public posts for decades.

It’s sad to see his six-year tenure as the head of the HKU council end in such a humiliating disaster.

If HKU did enjoy genuine autonomy in the past, it was because Hong Kong’s top leader, the ex-officio chancellor of HKU, could discipline himself and kept his nose out of the university’s administration.

But once the city's top leader wants to turn his ceremonial role as chancellor into a hands-on one, then HKU stands no chance to preserve its freedoms.

In this connection, HKU Students’ Union president Billy Fung Jing-en deserves respect for making public the absurd excuses and smears fabricated by some council members to block Chan’s appointment.

Just as with civil disobedience, is there any point in adhering to rules such as preserving confidentiality when they run counter to morality and the public interest?

The divisive infighting has turned a university administrative appointment into a fiasco in which many are entangled in a dire struggle between what is right and what is safe.

Who is to blame for the predicament in which HKU and the city are trapped?

Politics is a grave, dangerous matter on which all Hongkongers must keep a watchful eye.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 7.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal