Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Now for the hard part: governing Hong Kong wisely

CommentInsight & Opinion
Mike Rowse has a four-point plan for the incoming chief executive, starting with dropping the bid to bar four lawmakers from office and standing up to rural vested interests


Congratulations on your victory in the chief executive election. Now comes the hard part: governing Hong Kong wisely and helping to heal the rifts that have developed in our community.

You have two periods of 100 days ahead. The first is the gap between now and when you actually take up office, the second is when you need to come out swinging and set the tone for your five-year term.

The healing can’t start until the wounding stops

Advice for the next three months is easy: stay out of the way and try to keep a low profile. Give yourself a break, get some rest, you’ll need all the reserves of sleep you can store up for the trials that lie ahead. Whatever the temptation, do not be drawn into commenting on current political affairs. The media will be pressing you on a daily basis to see if they can detect some slight difference between your and Leung Chun-ying’s position on an issue. Whether or not they succeed, the effect will be to undercut the present administration.

Now the plan for the first 100 days in office. Step one, if the court case seeking to disbar four more Legislative Council members is still going on, drop it. The healing can’t start until the wounding stops.

Nobody has any sympathy for the first two who got thrown out, as they used foul language and showed contempt for our country and city. But these four were legitimately elected and Legco accepted their oaths. By challenging the president’s decision in court, the government in effect undermines him, even though he is regarded as pro-administration. It is a matter of public record that the government soundly lost the last Legco election: the opposition increased its majority in geographical constituencies, maintained its 3-2 majority in the super seats, and boosted its take from the traditional functional constituencies.

You need to reflect on why the government lost so badly and address the causes, not seek to overturn the verdict at the ballot box by questionable legal manoeuvres. And do not use the case as a bargaining chip, just instruct the justice secretary not to pursue it. If the case has progressed to a verdict before July 1 and you lose at the lower court, do not appeal. The worst-case scenario for you is if the government wins – the bitterness in the community at large will linger for your whole term. Press on with by-elections for the two vacant seats and be prepared to lose gracefully.

Step two, you must show that you are prepared to confront vested interests and give priority to the public interest when it matters. Given the vagaries of our political system, and powerful forces entrenched in the election committee and legislature, there will naturally be allegations that the people who elected you have you under their thumb. This will be particularly the case with property developers and rural interests such as the Heung Yee Kuk. Fortunately, fate has presented you with a wonderful opportunity to shrug off these allegations and prove your independence.

Remember Wang Chau, where the government is pressing ahead with housing development on green belt land occupied by villagers rather than the adjacent brownfield sites where a local leader operates a profitable car park? This is seen as a classic example of bowing to private interests – almost nobody believes that the intention is to have a phased development. You can immediately grab some credibility: simply instruct the officials concerned to give you a firm timetable for phases two and three of the Wang Chau development within your term of office, and make a public announcement about that timetable. Stick to it.

Thirdly, get some decent ministers and make plain that you will hold them accountable. There were a few good ones in the outgoing administration, try to keep them if you can. There will be a lot of pressure from various sources to appoint certain individuals. You must resist unless completely convinced of their ability and loyalty to you. You are at your most powerful in this process in the week you submit the final list to Beijing for approval. If you succumb to the pressure prematurely, you will never recover your authority.

Lastly, you might want to ask people of all faiths to pray on July 1 for a successful administration. Even agnostics and atheists should be prepared to wish you well.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.

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Election over, Hong Kong must try again to agree on political reform to heal the rifts in society

CommentInsight & Opinion
Ronny Tong is disappointed by the lack of effort on the part of all three chief executive candidates to bridge the gulf in society, and believes the winner cannot wish away the main source of the disagreement – democratisation

Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me: “What do we get from this chief executive election?” It was a simple enough question, but it stunned me for a while. Yes, come to think of it, apart from getting a new leader, what do we get from this election? Or more to the point, what can we expect from our new chief executive that may be different from what we got from the last three?

If you look back over the course of the election campaign, you cannot but come to the dreaded conclusion that the divide we have been lamenting since the Occupy Central protest movement is now even deeper than ever. And there is no sign of relief in sight. It is true that all four hopefuls (if you include Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee), throughout their respective campaigns, said they would do their best to mend the rift within our community; but do we see anything concrete done or proposed by them? Sadly, no.

Do you remember what former judge Woo Kwok-hing said on the day he handed in his 180 nominations? He said, “I’m 200 per cent committed to preventing Carrie Lam from being elected!” If he was not appearing on television at the time, you might have thought that was “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung talking. Since when is the goal of a candidate to “prevent” one of your opponents from being elected, rather than trying to win the election yourself? That is the mentality of opposition right there, rather than a desire and commitment to work for the betterment of Hong Kong; and it is precisely such a mentality on both sides that is tearing Hong Kong apart.

Perhaps Woo, as a candidate, was only trying to win over the pan-democrats, but if a candidate would pander in this way to a particular group, what would he be like as a leader? More importantly, if you are willing to be led by the opposition to fight against, rather than lead the opposition to win over, the other side, what chances do we have to overcome the gulf of differences between the two sides?

John Tsang Chun-wah is no better. If he thinks that getting some nominations and support from the pan-democrats and a few nominations from the pro-government camp means our rift in the community can thereby be bridged, he is sadly mistaken. The irony is that his most staunch supporters do not care about bridging the rift within the community. The political parties that support him want him to “fight against” the central government’s liaison office and, presumably, Beijing.

And if you go to Lam’s social media page, you will find his supporters using the foulest language to vilify her daily. Did Tsang call for calm and restraint on the part of his supporters? Did he make any concrete proposals to convince everyone to adopt a more conciliatory and forgiving attitude in order to build a more harmonious Hong Kong? Sorry, no.

In a way, Tsang was spot on when he said earlier that, if Lam were elected, Hong Kong would be further torn apart. The only thing is, it will not be due to the efforts of Lam alone.

Is Lam the better choice then? Unfortunately, no. She conspicuously distanced herself from the opposition camp throughout her entire campaign. Even when she did go to meet the opposition, she looked very reluctant and uncomfortable.

She said she would build an inclusive government and invite young people of different political backgrounds to join her administration; but would they? Does she really think young people can be bought over so easily? To start with, the disdainful way she treats social media projects a strong message that she does not believe in communicating with young people in the only way they know how, or winning them over on their own turf. Will Lam ever outgrow her civil-servant mentality and become a real politician and political leader? Can she prove all her critics – in particular, those calling for her resignation even before she won the election – wrong?

I am sorry, but this election does not bode well for our future. This election has driven us further apart since Occupy Central, and the three candidates did not help. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming our candidates; although I do wish they made things easier. After all, it is wishful thinking that our political differences could be overcome by a single person, chief executive or not. We must learn to respect and forgive; to listen and think; to reach out and find common goals rather than to highlight our disagreements.

In this respect, what can our new chief executive do? First and foremost, she must learn to reach out to our young people. Simply providing housing and career prospects to some of them will not be the complete answer. We must understand that young people live on dreams and ideals; on material as well as spiritual support. If it means learning to communicate with them over social media, so be it. There’s no avoiding social media. Just look at Donald Trump and his tweets.

Supporters of Carrie Lam hold a copy of her election platform. As Hong Kong’s new leader, Lam must learn to reach out to our young people. Simply providing housing and career prospects to some of them will not be the complete answer. Photo: Reuters

Winning over opposition legislators, or at least building up a relatively normal relationship with them, is another important challenge that Lam must face head-on. There is no short cut or easy way out. If she wants respect and support from the opposition, she must first extend respect and support to them. This means more than just inviting some of them to join her administration; it means believing in the one thing which they thrive on: political development.

It matters not that some people think such an effort is bound to fail because of the great divide within our community. We are in a vicious circle. If we give up on political reform, Hong Kong will continue to be divided. The only way to get us out of this downward spiral is to keep trying. We must believe that it is the process of trying that unites people with hope.

Last but not least, Lam must give up her civil-servant mentality. She is now a politician and the leader of a territory. Unlike being a chief secretary, her job now is not simply to get things done but to instil hope and confidence in people. She must accept that a very strong reason Tsang did so much better than her as a candidate was because he realised this much sooner and better than she did.

In a way, this is where her predecessor Leung Chun-ying has failed. Lam cannot afford to live up to her critics’ prophecy that she will be “C Y 2.0”. A leader will not just do, but will also listen; not just get pinned down by petty disputes, but move on with vision. Most important of all, a leader reaches out to others, instead of just waiting to be reached.

What do we get out of this election? I hope we get a second chance. We have wasted so much time. Twenty years, to be precise. Perhaps we don’t deserve one, but a second chance is what we can make of this election. We owe it to this place we call our home.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, SC, a former legislator, is convenor of the think tank Path of Democracy

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Why all the losers in Hong Kong’s chief executive race deserve our vote … of thanks

CommentInsight & Opinion
Alice Wu says the losing candidates showed the way for the incoming chief executive, from raising critical questions on ‘one country, two systems’ to highlighting the importance of heeding public sentiment

For all who stepped up to the plate to contend for the office of Hong Kong chief executive: thank you for making it a contested, though pre-determined, race.

Not only did some of them brush aside the great disincentive of being made predestined losers, they stuck to it to the end.

Whatever our politics, they are to be commended for putting themselves on the line, and for the personal sacrifices they made to get, or at least try to get, their names on the ballot.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the only aspiring contender out of the lot to have gone through democratic elections, has done this twice. True to her “comeback girl” persona, twice she put herself out there and twice she was squeezed out, forced to drop out of the race because she was not “able” to get the 150 nominations needed. She was not “able” to, mind, not because she should never have tried, or because there weren’t enough nominations to go around. She was made unable to.

She was not the odd woman out, especially since this time it was basically a contest of ex-civil servants. The shameful way the powers that be treated her, twice over now, are the darkest moments of this city’s chief executive race.

Beijing may see bullying Ip out of the race as serving a greater purpose, but it has made Ip the reluctant poster girl for its enemies, opposed to the idea of a Beijing-controlled nomination committee in any talks about political reform.

Kudos to Woo Kwok-hing for getting the ball rolling for this election by being the first to officially throw his hat into the ring – a breath of fresh air as we suffocated under the “wait and see” political atmosphere. He was the first to raise the obvious question to other rumoured contenders: “What are you waiting for?” As someone who was never considered a serious contender, the retired judge surely posed the most serious question of this race and perhaps the city’s ultimate political question. The city was waiting for Beijing to make up its mind about who to back. Other contenders were playing green light/red light with Beijing as the clock ticked. As an “outsider”, Woo certainly shook things up and pushed everyone’s buttons, but he went one better.

His question points to the source of this city’s political angst and frustrations. It explains why political helplessness floods Hong Kong’s political consciousness.

Watching those wishing to run for the city’s most powerful post wait for Beijing’s explicit blessings, or at least non-objection, made the promise of a “high degree of autonomy” a farcical delusion.

Political powerlessness permeates our air. Woo worked hard to secure nominations and, while this system means he never stood a chance of winning, he has possibly proposed the way out of political fatalism. And it would be wise for the newly elected chief executive to take heed.

Unless Hong Kong passes a law that criminalises the very thing – interference by mainland authorities – that Article 22 of our Basic Law prohibits, then all talk of upholding and protecting the “one country, two systems” principle is truly just that, empty talk.

As the race entered its final weeks, disturbing and ridiculous rumours, such as cast ballots would undergo fingerprint analysis, made their rounds in political circles. One could speculate about the source of these rumours, but all that would yield are just more conspiracy theories. The fact that these rumours needed refuting speaks of how “believable” they are. These rumours would not have survived if not for the avalanche of reports of the blatant and excessive lobbying for one candidate by those north of the Shenzhen River.

They were an affront to “one country, two systems” – and there will be repercussions that will challenge the very person those concerted efforts were supposed to benefit. The challenges of governance will be ever more pronounced. These politically stifling efforts will only exacerbate feelings of political powerlessness and feed the “political oppression” narrative the localists swear by.

Hats off to John Tsang Chun-wah for being a good sport, playing the role of a good sparring partner for a former colleague. The most appealing candidate for the public ran a campaign with the greatest popular appeal. Marked out as the populist candidate, Tsang proved his critics wrong. His cardinal sin wasn’t his supposed “populism”. It was getting the support of pan-democrats. But to mend the social and political rifts, as all candidates pledged to do, crossing the political aisle is a necessity. Tsang put restarting the political reform process front and centre of his platform not because he is a dangerous populist, but because he is a realist. The crises of legitimacy that administrations past have had to struggle with will only grow more disabling, and the political environment more volatile, if politics is swept under the rug. And without political legitimacy, the mission of improving livelihoods and developing the economy will continue to face political headwinds.

The most valuable outcome of a democratic contested race is that it gives the winner the chance to pay more attention to what the voters are thinking and really want.

John Tsang with a young supporter during his election campaign on March 16. Photo: AP

While what we had was a far cry from a democratic or truly contested race, Tsang perhaps offered the winning candidate a way into the hearts and minds of the public. Under the current system and political environment, Tsang’s tactic would never have won him the seat. But his tactic is exactly what the chief executive-elect would need when in office, in the conduct of which public sentiment plays a crucial role.

And finally, congratulations to the newly elected chief executive of Hong Kong. You have a very tall order to fill. Mao Zedong (毛澤東) may have considered you to be among those who “hold up half the sky,” but Li Ka-shing expects you to be nothing short of a Chinese mythical goddess tasked with the job to “mend the heavens”.

It is my sincere wish that you remain tough in the face of future storms, as you have demonstrated to have been more than capable of doing in the past.

Surely there will be plenty of opportunities to prove your critics wrong, but the work to mend the divided community – as you have pledged – begins right now.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA

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Localists should fight to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy, not seek independence

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Joel Sandhu

Joel Sadhu says pro-independence activists must know that, while Beijing will never tolerate a split, it can be persuaded of the benefits of allowing Hong Kong some freedoms post 2047

Political flare-ups between pro- and anti-Beijing supporters have catapulted Hong Kong into the international spotlight. Bei­jing’s increasing intervention in Hong Kong’s political affairs has led to violent street clashes between the two camps in the city and international condemnations of China.

Instead of calling for independence, Hong Kong localists should focus on maintaining the city’s semi-autonomous status beyond 2047, when China’s political system is slated to swallow Hong Kong’s.

When the UK handed the territory back to China, Hong Kong was allowed – under the “one country, two systems” framework – to keep freedoms not available on the mainland. Beijing’s intervention this month to prevent two democratically elected legislators, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, from taking office, after they botched their oath of office, has taken place amid growing resentment against the mainland’s increasing influence and involvement in local affairs. Hong Kong publishers of provocative political books have even been kidnaped and taken to the mainland to be paraded on state television.

At the same time, Hongkongers are angry about the rising cost of housing and basic commodities, increasing immigration – especially from the mainland – and soaring income inequality. Such frustration has led some Hong Kong people to vote for the pro-independence legislators, protest against Beijing’s interventions, and demand that the central government grant Hong Kong people the power to directly elect the city’s chief executive in 2017.

But Hongkongers need to be pragmatic. China will never grant independence to Hong Kong, and no matter who is elected chief executive, he or she will ultimately have to answer to Beijing.

The reality is that Hong Kong’s fate has been, and always will be, intricately tied to China. China has become the world’s second-largest economy, and is expected to surpass the US in gross domestic product in several more years. Multinational corporations jockey to gain access to its consumer market – the world’s largest. At the same time, Shanghai now competes with Hong Kong as the country’s financial hub, and Chinese special economic zones are catching up with, and overtaking, the city’s port. Looking ahead, China’s influence and power over Hong Kong is only set to grow.

The next chief executive will be chosen in March 2017 [5], again by an Election Committee composed of 1,200 members, a majority of whom are viewed as pro-Beijing.

The new breed of young, pro-democracy legislators need to realise that even if many residents identify themselves as “Hong Kong people” before “Chinese”, Hong Kong is still part of China. Many people in Hong Kong admire China’s rapid economic growth over the past two decades and many wish to retain close personal and professional ties with the mainland.

In this context, Hong Kong’s pro-independence leaders should accept that the only viable option to safeguard some semblance of democracy in the long run is to build support around preserving Hong Kong’s autonomous status indefinitely after 2047. This includes getting members of the chief executive’s selection committee on board, especially because many of them are Hong Kong’s elite who depend on the city’s stability and prosperity.

This approach could work because there are also clear benefits for China. Maintaining Hong Kong’s political stability in the long run will be good for China’s economy, its international reputation and for the global economy.

One of the original intentions behind “one country, two systems” was to reassure the international community and the Hong Kong people of the city’s political stability and attractiveness for global commerce.

It worked. The city now provides Chinese companies with access to global capital markets and foreign companies use Hong Kong as a base for investment in China, owing to its stable investment environment, independent judges and fair, transparent courts upholding the rule of law. According to the World Investment Report 2016 [6], published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Hong Kong ranked second globally in foreign direct investment inflows.

Hong Kong also plays a vital role for China to acquire technological and management expertise. And the Chinese government has tested a range of financial reforms in Hong Kong, including using the city since 2009 as a base for efforts to boost the renminbi’s acceptance as a global currency.

Underpinning all this is the credibility of the “one country, two systems” set-up, which has given international businesses a sense of comfort and safety, making the city’s legal system and capital markets an invaluable platform for which foreign investments – both financial and human – can connect to the mainland. The Chinese leadership should be enlightened to prioritise these benefits over the urge to control every aspect of Hong Kong and governing it like any other Chinese city.

For the first few years after the handover, many were hopeful that Hong Kong would eventually see a more accountable government. This optimism is fading.

Instead of fighting for independence, Hong Kong’s localists should strive to preserve the special administrative region’s autonomy and freedoms for the long term. In doing so, the Hong Kong people will have to tread a fine line between standing up for their right to retain some semblance of autonomy and coping with the reality of a rising and more assertive China’s ever tighter embrace.

Joel Sandhu, born and raised in Hong Kong, is a project manager at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin