Promotion means Leung could be mentor to his successor

March 17, 2017 16:53
Leung Chun-ying is seen at the opening of the CPPCC. Now that he is a national leader, he may become a political mentor to the next Hong Kong chief executive. Photo: AP

Not long after Tung Chee-hwa came into office as Hong Kong’s first chief executive, I floated the idea of having a top consultant from Beijing to assist the top leader, in particular in handling relations with the mainland and central authorities, just like the political advisers to the colonial governors who acted as London's eyes and ears.

Such an adviser can make sure that local policies don’t contradict Beijing’s suzerainty and the national interest. However, the suggestion went unheeded by the SAR government, despite my repeated attempts to broach the matter for discussion.

It was said that Tung vehemently rejected having a special mainland consultant by his side, fearing he would be reduced to a figurehead.

On the other hand, it was said that Beijing failed to find people who were cognizant enough of Hong Kong affairs, although it once did mull over dispatching advisers to the special administrative region.

Now, almost two decades later, Leung Chun-ying’s election at this year’s parliamentary session to Beijing’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as a vice chairman has made me wonder that perhaps Leung, in his new national capacity, may become a de facto political adviser to his successor when he steps down as chief executive in July.

Leung has his own “merits”. He is no stranger to mainland politics, having rubbed elbows with many senior Communist Party officials well before the 1997 handover.

Soon after he became a national leader -- CPPCC deputy chairmanship qualifies him to be a member of China’s top leadership -- Leung told the media that he started participating in China’s reform and opening up in the early 1980s with his expertise in surveying and land use, and witnessed Hong Kong’s entire transition and the subsequent handover as one of the drafters of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

With Leung’s elevation, Hong Kong now has two CPPCC vice chairmen. The other is Tung, who was given the “political compensation” right after his abrupt resignation as chief executive in 2005, believed at Beijing’s behest.

Since then, Tung has been actively involved in Beijing’s interactions with Washington, leveraging his personal connections in United States that he built while running his family shipping business, Orient Overseas.

Now I reckon Vice Chairman Leung’s new role should focus more on the running of Hong Kong as Beijing’s trusted henchman to carry on the war against Hong Kong separatism, a “phantom enemy” that irks Beijing and also a political asset that earned a seat for Leung in the nation’s top ruling class.

In a nutshell, Beijing wants Leung to nip Hong Kong independence in the bud.

Meanwhile, Leung’s Hong Kong identity and curriculum vitae as chief executive make the entire process look impeccable within the framework of “one country, two systems” and “high degree of autonomy”. Beijing can just pull a few strings, rather than stepping on Hong Kong’s toes in the clampdown of separatists.

Leung was elected at the CPPCC annual plenum in which a total of 2,066 delegates voted in favor of a motion to name him a vice chairman, with 13 against and 16 abstaining.

This must be heartening to Leung’s proteges who have taken up key positions in government and statutory bodies since he took office five years ago but faced uncertainties after chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam said she would overhaul the governance structure, which could mean hundreds of redundancies.

These people have proven useful in Leung’s bid to create the phantom enemy of Hong Kong independence and there is no reason for Leung to ditch them.

Instead, Leung may set up his new office after July and all of his lackeys will have new work to do when their boss becomes a political mentor to the next chief executive.

What was also eye-catching was that President Xi Jinping approached Leung for a 40-second handshake on center stage inside the Great Hall of the People. Xi was seen talking to Leung with a nod of assent.

The scene tells us again that how Hongkongers feel is irrelevant, as Leung only needs to answer to the top leader, the only power he is accountable to. Once Xi touts Leung's work, the latter gets the political points but those who decry Leung's performance get a slap in the face.

While Leung was shaking hands with Xi in Beijing, the latest University of Hong Kong poll found his approval rating had plummeted to a new low, with a disapproval rate of more than 66 percent.

Few in Hong Kong think Leung deserves any reward for his tenure when the city has become more divided and politically charged than ever, not to mention his friend-or-foe approach to battling calls for independence.

The next three decades to 2047 will be nothing different from counting down to the 1997 handover: we are in a borrowed place on borrowed time. Hong Kong is not where Hongkongers can be their own masters.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 15

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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President Xi Jinping shakes hands with CY Leung after the latter was made a deputy chairman of China's top political advisory body. All members of the Communist Party politburo standing committee shook hands with Leung. Photo: AP

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