Why Leung lambasted Undergrad

January 28, 2015 13:51
Former Undergrad editor-in-chief Leung Kai-ping (L) with a copy of Hong Kong Nationalism, the book Leung Chun-ying (R) condemned in his policy address. Photo: Leung Kai-ping

This year’s policy address is a box office failure: it was delivered two weeks ago, and public response remains lukewarm.

Even the housing strategy that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called the "heart and soul” of his speech has drawn a lot more criticism than praise.

However, Leung’s mediocre policy address did create some ripples when he began it by lambasting Undergrad -- the campus journal of the Hong Kong University Students' Union -- and a book the union published in 2013.

The book, Hong Kong Nationalism, has become an overnight bestseller.

Many critics said Leung should not have used such an important strategy document of the government as a platform to denounce a civilian publication and undermine the freedom of speech.

However, judging from the pro-establishment camp's response and its subsequent actions, there seems to be a message behind Leung’s sudden decision to pick a fight with Undergrad.

Although Leung didn’t use the phrase “Hong Kong independence” in his policy address, he succeeded in labeling Undergrad and the book as advocates of independence for the city.

As a result, they immediately came under attack from the pro-Beijing camp.

As Professor Leung Man-to of National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan wrote in an online article, what the chief executive is trying to do is get the public to associate youngsters who want a genuine election in 2017 with people who support Hong Kong’s independence.

C.Y. Leung is doing this to back up his ridiculous argument that compromising on the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee's framework for electoral reform in Hong Kong means giving in to the conspiracy to seek independence for the city.

There is no doubt the government is trying to provoke a new wave of social disharmony by launching an attack on Undergrad, and the crucial questions are why it is doing so and what it will do next.

If we look at the history of post-1949 China, we see that the Communist Party often kicked off political movements or persecutions by seizing upon some seemingly irrelevant topic at the time.

For example, the Anti-Rightist Movement in 1957 began when the party encouraged members of the intelligentsia to speak up; the Cultural Revolution was triggered by the party’s criticism of Wu Han’s play The Dismissal of Hai Rui; and the attacks on premier Zhou Enlai began with the party’s condemnation of Confucius.

It is therefore likely that Leung’s true aim in denouncing Undergrad is to create a diversion to pave the way for the unfinished business of enacting the provisions in Article 23 of the Basic Law.

After Leung delivered his policy address, NPC deputy Stanley Ng Chau-pei said last week he was planning a motion at the NPC meeting in March urging the central authorities to introduce the “national security law” of the mainland to Hong Kong.

[Editor's note: China replaced its National Security Law of 1993 with a Counterespionage Law in November.] 

His suggestion was quickly echoed by his NPC colleague Peter Wong Man-kong, who said the feasibility of this idea is worth studying.

And former chief executive Tung Chee-wah said Beijing has the right to introduce mainland laws to Hong Kong.

However, others sniffed at Ng’s idea.

Constitutional law expert Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun of the University of Hong Kong simply said Ng’s suggestion was inappropriate and unconstitutional.

Even local mouthpieces of the Communist Party on constitutional affairs like former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie and Maria Tam Wai-chu spoke against the idea.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok responded that it is not feasible to introduce the mainland's “national security law” to the city and the government does not have any plan to do so.

Ng was nothing more than a proxy in the government’s plot to resurrect the Article 23 legislation, and I believe it is the intention of neither Beijing nor Hong Kong's administration to impose the “national security law” in Hong Kong.

However, if it is true that Leung was just trying to create a diversion by slamming Undergrad, then Ng’s suggestion is likely to have been a deceptive ploy, and the government has yet to make its real move.

That could be, as Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, suggested, to put the enactment of Article 23 on its agenda.

Leung and his administration managed to survive the Umbrella movement and have won favor with leaders in Beijing by completing the task of “suppressing domestic unrest”.

He seems to have let success go to his head and is likely to hit out in a high-profile manner in the days ahead at Hongkongers who feel a rising sense of indigenousness and are willing to consider the idea of Hong Kong as a city state, as well as those fighting for a genuine election in 2017.

It has become clear that in the remainder of his term of office, Leung will, on one hand, crack down on pro-democrats on the pretext of suppressing an independence movement and, on the other, prepare for the resurrection of Article 23, with the intention of legislating it during his second term.

His agenda is so clear, it's as though it's written on the wall.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 27.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal