Eyebrows raised as Leung says Global Times wrong

June 25, 2014 11:56
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is apparently trying to cool the political temperature ahead of the pro-democracy march on July 1. Photo: HKEJ

Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, is known for his religious adherence to the official stance taken by the Chinese central authorities. Set against that background, eyebrows were raised on Tuesday when Leung came out to express his discord with an editorial of the Global Times, a sister publication of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece.

He told reporters he disagreed with the editorial published on Monday, which argued the turnout for the city’s ongoing Occupy Central referendum was “no match” with the 1.3 billion people in the mainland. It added more than 1.3 billion people in China have “the right to speak on Hong Kong’s political reform”.

The mainland newspaper has sought to play down the significance of the number of people who cast their votes on universal suffrage-related questions when compared with the 1.3 billion-strong populace.

It was wrong, Leung said, for anyone to pit the people of Hong Kong and the people of China against each other.

Leung also took issue with claims by the Global Times editorial and the State Council’s Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office that the unofficial “referendum”, which started on June 20 and is due to end on June 29, was “illegal”.

He argued that when the mainland authorities said it was “illegal”, they were indeed saying the voting has “no legal basis”, same as what the SAR government has said. Leung echoed the comments made by Occupy Central organizers that the referendum did not violate any existing laws.

Those who took part in the voting, he said, have no criminal liability.

Even with four more days to go before voting ends, the referendum has already set a new record. By Tuesday night, more than 738,000 people have cast their votes. A similar civic referendum organized by the pan-democratic camp in 2010 -- for the five Legislative Council seats vacated after five pan-democratic lawmakers resigned -- saw a turnout of 570,000 people.

With the referendum looks set to be a success, Leung’s rare defiance of Beijing’s stance on the referendum is apparently a calculated attempt to cool down the political temperature ahead of the annual pro-democracy march on July 1.

By setting the record straight over the legality of the referendum, Leung seems to be hoping to avoid further antagonizing people who have come out to vote in the past few days.

Amid simmering tensions in mainland-Hong Kong relations, the headline of the Global Times editorial that argued the number of participants in the city’s referendum was “no match” to the 1.3 billion mainland population is provocative, to say the least.

The sentiments expressed in the mainland newspaper are in line with the seemingly growing feeling of dismay in the mainland towards Hong Kong caused by such controversies as mainland visitors in the city.

If it goes unchallenged, it will pour more oil to the fire of mainland-Hong Kong interactions.

More importantly, the “Hong Kong versus the mainland” theory could carry profound implications on mainland-Hong Kong issues.

This is because if the argument stands, it could mean the 1.3 billion people in the mainland have a say on Hong Kong issues, be it about the entry of mainland visitors into the city and the agreements under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.

At a deeper level, the “no-match” theory seems to have given an endorsement to the principle of letting people choose what they want, which is highly sensitive in the mainland under a system of dictatorial leadership by the Communist Party.

From that perspective, Leung is clearly more politically correct than the propaganda cadres at the Global Times and the legal heavyweights in the mainland.

A senior academic at the Shenzhen University’s law faculty Zou Pingxue echoed the view of the Global Times at a conference in Hong Kong on Monday. Even if three million people in Hong Kong have cast their vote, Zou asked: “Do you really think three million people can confront the National People’s Congress and the Basic Law? Your three million can go against 1.3 billion people?”

Amid heightening tension in mainland-Hong Kong relations, Leung has awakened the potentially dangerous emphasis on the wish of the 1.3 billion people in the mainland when it comes to Hong Kong issues.

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He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.