Game of politics: Knowing how to outplay your opponents

November 02, 2016 09:08
Financial Secretary John Tsang's comments in relation to joining the chief executive race suggest that he wants Beijing to decide if he is good for Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Just like professional chess players, people who play high-stakes politics need to think many moves ahead. When chess grandmasters make a move, they anticipate how their adversaries will respond and how they themselves will respond to the countermoves of their adversaries. Good politicians know they too must think ahead or they will be easily outplayed.

Do Hong Kong's politicians think ahead? What about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the opposition camp, or chief executive candidate Woo Kwok-hing?

Youngspiration's Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching didn't think ahead when they used derogatory language during their failed oath-taking as legislative councilors. They didn't foresee that by using the offensive Japanese word "Cheena", instead of China, they would stoke public fury by reopening a painful wartime wound inflicted on the dignity of the Chinese people.

If they had thought ahead, they would have realized that their modified oaths would be ruled invalid and that their adversaries would use legal means to disqualify them as legislators. Thinking just one step ahead would have made them aware of a 2004 court ruling that elected candidates must take their oaths properly to become legislators.

The two Youngspiration members have been outplayed by CY Leung whose countermove is to ensure they will be disqualified even though they were democratically elected. If Leung succeeds, the opposition will lose two Legislative Council seats unless a by-election produces two opposition camp winners.

Did the opposition think like chess players when it sided with Yau and Leung? Did Civic Party legislators think ahead last week when they formed a human shield to enable the two to enter Legco even though the Legco president had ruled the pair would not be allowed to retake their oaths pending a court ruling?

Surely, opposition legislators should have thought ahead as to how the central government would view their blatant backing of two people who have openly supported Hong Kong independence. Smart politicians would have anticipated that protecting Yau and Leung would destroy the central government's trust in them. There is very little trust left already. But perhaps the Civic Party doesn’t care about Beijing's trust.

Did opposition legislators think ahead when they demanded the resignation of Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen for reversing his decision to allow Yau and Leung to retake their oaths? Did it not occur to them that their political adversaries could counter-play by asking why they want the Legco president to resign but not the disqualification of the Youngspiration pair who had created the controversy by mocking the Chinese race? Politicians who think ahead would easily realize this can be seen as hypocritical.

Did CY Leung think ahead when he used his own name as chief executive to launch a judicial review to disqualify the Youngspiration pair as legislators? Opinion is split on whether it was legally appropriate for him to include his name instead of letting Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung do it alone. But did he not anticipate that by adding his own name, when Yuen's name alone would have sufficed, he would open himself to ridicule by adversaries who would mock him for trying to impress Beijing?

The chief executive's action allowed his foes to counter-play by focusing negative attention on him, thereby diverting focus away from the Youngspiration pair's appalling misbehavior.

Did CY Leung think ahead as to what would happen if the government lost the judicial review? If the case reaches the Court of Final Appeal, as is likely, and the government loses, adversaries would interpret it as Hong Kong's highest court believing independence advocates have a right to become legislators and can retake their oath even after using offensive language during the first attempt.

Of course, the government can ask the National People's Congress to intervene but that would not change the thinking, especially among young independence advocates, that Hong Kong's highest court had legitimized their actions.

Are possible candidates for next March's chief executive election thinking ahead? Declared candidate Woo Kwok-hing, a retired judge, clearly didn't think ahead when he said he would have joined the umbrella movement if he were 50 years younger, and that he would ask Beijing to vindicate the 1989 Tiananmen uprising if elected. Surely, Beijing would not look upon such comments approvingly.

Is Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah thinking ahead when he repeatedly says he would run if it is considered good for Hong Kong? A smart politician would know such repetitions send a negative message that he wants Beijing to decide if he is good for Hong Kong, and wants Beijing's assurance he would win.

Hong Kong will be rocked by many political earthquakes going forward as we await the ruling of the court case against Yau and Leung and the names of all the candidates for the chief executive election.

All the players involved need to think ahead before they make their moves. But unlike chess players, whose ultimate goal is to defeat their adversaries, our polarized society requires political players to make Hong Kong's overall interests paramount as they plan their moves in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.