Sorry, Mr. Xi, you can’t absolve yourself of blame for HK woes

November 01, 2016 09:05
A file photo shows Leung Chun-ying (left) walk past President Xi Jinping at a forum. Xi is looking to absolve himself of the blame amid Hongkongers' growing estrangement from China. Photo: Reuters

We are seeing something we haven't seen before.

After the once pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper fired its opening salvo against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) and other Hong Kong policymakers, the Communist Party’s discipline watchdog went into action.

In a sternly worded report, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said its inspection team found the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office had a number of shortcomings and failures in “anti-corruption, personnel work and staff promotion”.

Most seriously, the implementation of the central leadership’s decisions was “not firm enough” and the management of party affairs was “very slack”, it said.

Wang Guangya (王光亞), director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was quoted as saying that he accepted all the criticisms and would reflect deeply on himself and how to improve the work.

Rumor has it that the watchdog also sent investigators to the Liaison Office in Hong Kong, which is under the oversight of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

Observers say the real target is not Wang: the censure from the discipline watchdog may be directed at Liao Hui (廖暉), Wang’s predecessor and a key ally of retired president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin (江澤民), and Jiang’s other protégés as well, including former vice president Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅), National People's Congress (NPC) chairman and the party’s third ranking official Zhang Dejiang (張德江), and Zhang’s colleague in the Politburo standing committee Liu Yunshan (劉雲山), who oversees ideological affairs and the media.

My observation is that Sing Pao acted in tandem with the party’s discipline watchdog, or more precisely, it was a well-orchestrated move: the Hong Kong newspaper got the go-ahead to launch the recrimination campaign once the discipline commission, headed by Xi Jinping’s (習近平) own henchman Wang Qishan (王岐山), got hold of evidence of all wrongdoings – even some may be fabricated – to find fault with members of the Jiang clique.

Note Sing Pao first criticized Zhang Dejiang in an Aug. 30 editorial, and on the same day discipline inspectors concluded their two-month-long appraisal, or nitpicking, of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

So the question is, what are all these for?

Xi Jinping is behind everything

Amid the rising pro-independence sentiment, Xi is looking to pass the blame to his foes, specifically, Jiang’s allies who for years have been running the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Liaison Office.

But Xi may not be able to achieve that end: some plain facts are against him when it comes to the simple question of who should pay for the current mess in Hong Kong.

Before being anointed the party and the nation’s supreme leader, Xi headed the party’s top panel for Hong Kong and Macau policies for five straight years from 2007 to 2012. If Jiang’s men must be made accountable for the blunders, so should Xi himself.

During an official visit to the territory in July 2008, Xi said Hong Kong’s executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary must “cooperate”.

His blatant remarks spelled the doom for the city’s independent judiciary, as many feared back then.

A few years later Hong Kong once again saw something familiar. In a clumsy attempt to reinterpret “one country, two systems”, Beijing said in a 2014 white paper that all of the city’s judges were “administrators” and were thus subject to “political requirements such as patriotism”.

And, had it not been for Xi’s nod, Leung couldn’t have secured support from a little over half of the 1,200-member election committee.

Some ridiculed the outcome of the chief executive race back then, saying that it was in truth decided by Xi’s own “one person, one vote”.

In closed-door meetings with their mainland bosses five years ago, the election committee members were all ordered to cast their votes for Leung – never mind that many of them previously favored Henry Tang Ying-yen.

That is precisely why Xi must be blamed for each and every scandal since Leung took office.

It would also be preposterous to assume that the now notorious white paper and the National People’s Congress resolution on the 2017 chief executive election, which insisted on the political vetting of candidates before a free vote, came out without Xi’s consent.

Don’t forget that he has long amassed all powers to himself since taking office, reducing other comrades in the six-member Politburo standing committee, the party’s supreme decision-making body, to mere figureheads.

A fine division of duties and internal checks and balances among Politburo standing members, or “collective leadership”, is now nonexistent in Xi’s “reign”.

Thus, don’t think that Hong Kong affairs are mainly in the hands of Zhang Dejiang or other mandarins, they are not. Like any other matters, Xi has the final say over Hong Kong policies.

It wouldn’t be quite off the mark to conclude that Xi’s contempt and mishandling of Hong Kong’s constitutional development led to the 79-day Occupy movement two years ago and all its repercussions today.

Obviously Xi is well aware of all this.

That is why he is eager to launch pre-emptive strikes to land him in a less vulnerable position and to pass the blame to Jiang’s men, in particular Zhang Dejiang and Zeng Qinghong.

Note that Sing Pao’s serial bombardment has never touched on Xi himself or any of his own aides.

And in that case, Leung Chun-ying and Zhang Xiaoming are nothing but pawns.

But as I said before, when Xi has effectively turned China into a dynasty of his own, can he really absolve himself of the blame, when over the years he himself has added every bit to Hong Kong’s current political commotion?

This article appeared on the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s online forum on Oct. 20.

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin (left) is seen with his top ally, former vice president Zeng Qinghong. Xi Jinping now wants the Jiang clique to pay for the Hong Kong mess. Photo: Internet

Senior journalist with The Straits Times and political commentator