Xi may want Leung and Liaison Office to pay for HK mess

October 12, 2016 16:30
Biejing's policy blunders in Hong Kong has led to calls for independence in the territory. Xi Jinping (left), seeing the humiliation, may pass the blame to Leung Chun-ying (center) and Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming. Photos: AFP, HKEJ

Hong Kong’s localist and separatist groups, a loosely-knit bloc spanning a wide spectrum, have sent altogether six members to the new Legislative Council.

They are Youngspiration’s Sixtus Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, Demosistō’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Civic Passion’s Cheung Chung-tai and independent candidates Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Lau Siu-lai.

Garnering one-fifth of the district constituency votes, or more than 411,000 in total, their odds-defying election performance marks their formidable entry into the city's legislature, disrupting the Legco pendulum that has been swinging between old-line democrats and pro-establishment lawmakers.

I see the 2010 mass protests against the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link as the birth year of Hong Kong’s nativist and pro-independence movement.

The drastic developments over the short span of six years have engendered new and vibrant political entities that advocate full autonomy or even direct secession.

As a whole, the six new legislators form a new coalition that is set to turn Legco, previously the scene of clashes between the establishment and opposition camps, into a three-cornered arena.

Xi’s humiliation

Almost 20 years after the territory’s handover, Beijing’s policy misstep is now the nutrition for separatist sentiments among Hongkongers, in particular the younger generation, and as such, it is one of the worst blunders in Xi Jinping’s (習近平) tenure, as history will remember that many in the special administrative region now want to break ranks with China on Xi’s watch.

This must be humiliating to Xi, and for sure a very useful excuse for his foes to take potshots at him amid the Communist Party’s factional schism.

Then Xi will have to find someone else to pass the blame, and this is bad news to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明).

That’s why we are seeing a rare revolt by some pro-Beijing newspapers against the two.

Media blasts

DuoWei News, a current affairs magazine owned by Yu Pun-hoi, an editor-turned-entrepreneur said to be politically acute with personal ties that go directly into Zhongnanhai, fired the opening salvo in August with a feature story headlined Belated Reshuffle at Beijing’s Liaison Office.

The article accuses Zhang and other mainland cadres stationed in the city of overriding the SAR government, of having no qualms about meddling in the running of Hong Kong.

Evidence? There are a few: CY Leung paid a courtesy call to the office right after he won the chief executive race in 2012 to thank the Hong Kong-based mainland officials for vote canvassing, and, in June 2015, pro-establishment lawmakers, who were absent in the Legco voting that shot down the government's blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election, rushed to the office to apologize for their poor coordination.

Hongkongers’ perception of the central government, as well as of the nation's top leaders like Xi, takes a beating when Zhang and his stooges regard themselves as some kind of “plenipotentiary envoys” who can call the shots in Hong Kong and when the SAR government looks up to the Liaison Office for instructions, according to the article.

Sing Pao, one of the city’s oldest newspapers, has also renewed the recrimination campaign.

Owned by a mainland businessman reportedly with funding from the military, Sing Pao has been running a series of front-page editorials blaming Leung, the Liaison Office and most recently, Zhang Dejiang (張德江), chairman of the National People’s Congress and the party’s third-ranked official, for all kinds of wrongdoings in Hong Kong.

“Leung has never been a likeable, gracious man nor does he have the vision to lead. Hong Kong has never seen any politician who is better at making enemies than Leung," says one editorial.

"Unsurprisingly, no capable person is willing to work with such a vengeful figure who is always inclined to stir up trifles.

"And the Leung cabinet is made of a band of stumblebums, who are only good at scoring brownie points with their boss and the Liaison Office cadres.

“And as for the embattled Leung himself, he has to pledge allegiance to Zhang Xiaoming and other mainland officials and make a fuss out of the pro-independence calls to keep his job safe, and there has effectively been a covert syndicate between the Leung administration and the Liaison Office.”

Likely outcome

My interpretation is that Xi and his own men have been, through media under their control, passing the blame to Leung and the Liaison Office for Hong Kong’s political impasse.

Then we can draw the following conclusions:

1. Leung won’t be given a second term.

The only thing Beijing is concerned is how to minimize the impact; thus, it may, at a suitable juncture before next March, ask Leung to retire gracefully.

In August, Ming Pao carried a commentary by the director of the Beijing Institute for Hong Kong and Macau Scholars, a semi-official think tank affiliated with Peking University.

The article suggests that Beijing not pursue Leung’s undeclared receipt, after he took office, of HK$50 million from Australian engineering and property services firm UGL, a scandal that has been haunting Leung since 2014, in exchange for Leung’s voluntary retirement next March.

2. The Liaison Office may soon be reshuffled.

Sing Pao has mockingly said that there’s a new political party in the legislature called “Sai Wan Party”, referring to Liaison Office’s address in Sai Wan.

Members of the Sai Wan Party, like Paul Tse Wai-chun, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, Chiang Lai-wan and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun wouldn’t have been able to grab seats in the chamber had it not been for a little string-pulling by the Liaison Office.

“These people will have to pay back to their boss and execute to the fullest every order and imperative they will be given," the newspaper said.

"The best way to reorganize the Liaison Office is to put it under the oversight of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and make it a genuine platform for better liaison, as its name implies, to convey Hongkongers' voices and enhance communication, and nothing more.”

This article appeared on the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s online forum on Sept. 15.

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Senior journalist with The Straits Times and political commentator