Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Six ways a coalition would be a winning combination for Hong Kong

CommentInsight & Opinion
Keith Hui explains how an inclusive administration would give both opposition parties and voters a real voice and stake in making the government work


A coalition government would increase the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policymaking for long-term stability and prosperity. Illustration: Craig StephensHong Kong’s chief executive should consider upgrading the “principal officials accountability system” – introduced by Tung Chee-hwa in 2002 to appoint illustrious worthies alongside administrative officers to take up policy secretary posts – to an inclusive “coalition government”.

Recruiting more lawmakers ­affiliated with the major political parties, including the Democratic Party, to join such a coalition cabinet would offer a chance to solve the present political conundrum.

Coalition governments are common in Europe; many countries there have had a proportional representation mechanism for decades. For example, the current German government, named as the third “grand coalition” since the second world war, is composed of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrat SPD, thus securing a dominating majority (504 of 598 seats) in the 18th Bundestag.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union party in Heidelberg on November 28. She leads the third “grand coalition” government in Germany since the second world war. Photo: EPA

There would be at least six advantages from having Hong Kong lawmakers, from both functional and geographical constituencies, and district councillors appointed to the position of chief secretary and more than half the ministerial posts (including deputy and assistant ranks) inside the 13 policy bureaus.

It would mean more politicians like Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, Transport and Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung; and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Undersecretary Ronald Chan Ngok-pang inside the government.

The first advantage is that the chief executive would have more flexibility to negotiate with all those who faithfully support the “one country two systems” principle and recognise China’s unquestionable sovereignty over Hong Kong, so as to command a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council.

The recent oath-taking saga has revealed the Democratic Party’s consistent position in staying firmly away from the independence movement advocated by localists. The Democrats, in fact, had an excellent track record under the leadership of the late Szeto Wah for their patriotism as well as willingness to compromise with the government on many fronts. Moderates such as Fred Li Wah-ming and Sin Chung-kai would be ideal candidates to join a coalition government (after nominally resigning from the party) to represent the Democrats.

Fred Li would be ideal for a coalition government. Photo: Edmund SoThe more radical section of the party may disagree with such a move. However, unless they want to remain an opposition party forever, being assimilated into the coalition government is the only way to realise their goals regarding, say, social welfare and labour protection. In other words, only if the Democratic Party is willing to join a coalition government can it turn itself into a genuine political party.

This also applies to parties such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee’s New People’s Party, the Liberal Party and the various groups within the functional constituencies. This is actually the second advantage of a coalition government, in that it provides a formal channel for parties to attain governing power under certain conditions, thus fulfilling their ambition to become policymakers.

Also, as these politicians have the chance to analyse issues from both sides, they would tend to be practical rather than radical, realistic rather than idealistic and pragmatic rather than hypocritical.

The third advantage would be evoking the general public’s sense of belonging, security, achievement and closeness to the government, given that a certain number of politicians elected by the public would now be working as policymakers to initiate concrete action to improve their livelihoods.

Furthermore, if this happened generation after generation, voters would tend to distance themselves from radicals who could paralyse the legislature. Any sensible voter would always prefer those who can actually take care of their interests over those who merely provide lip service.

The fourth merit is that there would be no need to amend the Basic Law. The chief executive would continue to have all the necessary discretion, subject to Beijing’s approval, to appoint people to fill various posts, at certain ranks, while deciding how long they should serve. Professionals and civil servants could still be appointed to take up posts as, say, secretary for justice, security, financial services and the civil service. These non-politicians would counterbalance the influence of their political peers, when necessary, through budgeting or voicing realistic concerns.

Moreover, in a case where a secretary committed a serious mistake, immediate resignation would still be an option to help relieve pressure on the government.

The fifth advantage, and the most important one, will be increasing the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policy implementation for long-term stability and prosperity. This could alleviate confrontations between the establishment and opposition parties. This is also how coalition governments work in many countries.

In the wake of the independence movement, the chief executive needs to spend more time improving mainland-Hong Kong relations. The chief secretary should therefore shoulder more responsibility to oversee internal affairs, from housing policy to legislation on Article 23. Appointing a popularly elected person to take up this position and lead the coalition government could open more gateways for cooperation among reasonable political groups for a consensus. This is the sixth advantage, so that political pressure is not overly concentrated on the chief executive.

Without a breakthrough, Hong Kong might have to rely on selling souvenirs to make a living soon.

Keith K C Hui is a Hong Kong-based commentator

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Can battered Hong Kong regain some of its dignity in the eyes of Beijing?

CommentInsight & Opinion
Michael Heng says events like the 2014 Occupy protests could have been handled much better if all those involved had adhered to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle
For the first time in his ­annual work report to the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) publicly condemned the notion of Hong Kong independence. He warned that the movement would lead nowhere. On this point, Li can expect the support of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.To the vast majority of Hongkongers, the idea of independence is simply and obviously untenable.

The demand for independence has been spearheaded by an extreme group within the pro-democracy movement. Two young pro-independence campaigners elected to the Legislative Council used the oath-taking ceremony last September to make a political point. Other than being a publicity stunt, it has done nothing to advance the cause of democracy in the city. On the contrary, the pair’s deliberately irreverent antics have generated a deep split within society. No wonder 2016 was described by some as a chaotic year.

Hong Kong has long been known for its pragmatism, tolerance, culture of moderation, openness and vibrancy. So, today, it is natural to ask: what has gone wrong?

The entry point for inquiry is the year 2014. In the 20 years since the return of Hong Kong to China, that year was probably the most interesting – for all the wrong reasons.

It was a year when a movement for greater democracy in September morphed into a massive street demonstration, known the world over as the “umbrella movement”.

The city’s culture of moderation is deep-seated. The annual mass gathering held to mark the June 4 Tiananmen incident, for example, has always proceeded without trouble. Even the Falun Gong, outlawed on the mainland, are allowed to operate in Hong Kong, albeit with some restrictions. The protest in 2012 against national education was resolved quite amicably. Many were expecting that good tradition to be displayed again in 2014. That is why they were taken aback by the sight of a peaceful, festive movement degenerating into street clashes between protesters and police, with some ugly scenes.

Police officers clash with pro-democracy protesters at Tamar on November 30, 2014. Photo: Dickson Lee

Anyone with political common sense would know that what happens in Hong Kong will have repercussions in Taiwan.

And so it is important to recall that the Occupy movement in September 2014, came just two months ahead of local elections in Taiwan.

Given this small time gap and Hong Kong’s usual self-restraint, it is perhaps puzzling that the Occupy movement was not handled with more sensitivity, skill and wisdom. It was certainly not an event that merited descriptions of moderation, magnanimity or far-sightedness.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Hong Kong protest, with yellow umbrellas as its symbol, was an important factor in swaying voters in Taiwan to dump Kuomintang candidates in the local elections. I was teaching in Taiwan at the time, and had friends in both major parties. My KMT friends were disgusted and asked aloud, “Why is Beijing undermining us and helping our political opponents?”

In the absence of reliable information, I could only offer a conspiracy theory of sorts – that, perhaps, the crazy mess in Hong Kong was connected with power conflicts at the very top of the Communist Party. Perhaps those in Zhongnanhai responsible for Hong Kong wanted to embarrass President Xi Jinping ( 習近)?

As expected, the KMT suffered a disastrous defeat, which demoralised the party and created a favourable political environment for the Democratic Progressive Party in the general election in January last year.

Taiwan now has a DPP president and vice-president, and the party enjoys a majority in the Legislative Yuan. This political configuration is not something that Beijing had hoped for, or wants to see.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s image of a city of restraint and pragmatism has been dented by the sequence of events since that fateful month in 2014. What can the city do to rebuild its image?

Luckily, there is very little support in Hong Kong for the idea of independence. Based on this, we may conclude that Premier Li’s warning was primarily intended for his audience on the mainland.

For Hongkongers, of greater relevance was his statement that Beijing is committed to the principle of “one country, two systems” and the framework would be applied without being “bent or distorted”. He told the NPC: “We will continue to ­implement, both to the letter and in spirit, the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong.”

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during the opening of the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on March 5. Photo: Bloomberg

This is good news, because the unpleasant events of 2014 could have been avoided if those involved had abided by the letter and spirit of “one country, two systems”.

It is this principle that has largely enabled the continued prosperity of the city over the past 20 years, without undermining its pragmatism and spirit of inclusiveness.

Coming from the mouth of the second most powerful man in the political establishment in Beijing, these words essentially lay down the parameters of political life in Hong Kong. This part of his speech was addressed to the people in Hong Kong, especially to those holding the levers of power.

Michael Heng is a retired professor who had academic appointments in Australia, the Netherlands, and at six universities in Asia

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In Beijing’s view, winning over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people is not a priority

CommentInsight & Opinion
Gary Cheung says its blatant support for Carrie Lam and Beijing loyalists’ attacks on her opponents are destroying the chance to reset relations between the central government and Hong Kong people, especially the young, post Occupy

With barely three weeks to go before 1,194 members of the Election Committee choose the next chief executive on March 26, it is almost a foregone conclusion that former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will land the top job.

Over the past several weeks, Beijing has gone all out to help her win. Pro-Beijing newspapers have endorsed her and are extensively covering her campaign. Last month, no less than Zhang Dejiang (張德江), the National People’s Congress chairman and the state leader who oversees local affairs, made it clear to Beijing loyalists that the Communist Party backs Lam. And in the run-up to the nomination period, which ended last week, officials from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong were known to have phoned some Election Committee members to “remind” them to nominate Lam.

Given her competence and can-do spirit, I have never doubted Lam’s ability to win the chief executive race through her own efforts. Beijing is doing her a disservice with its lobbying, as the perception that she is the “anointed’ candidate can only hurt her popularity. Lam admitted as much in an interview with the Post last week.

Beijing has squandered a golden opportunity to mend its rift with Hongkongers. When the unpopular Leung Chun-ying announced he would not seek a second term as chief executive, many people who had expected Beijing to prop up a hardline leader in Hong Kong were pleasantly surprised. The news even created some goodwill towards the central government.

But Beijing considers the chief executive race to be a battle over jurisdiction of the city and wants zero risk in the jockeying for the top job. No surprises will be tolerated on March 26 – even if it means hurting its preferred candidate’s standing with the people. At his meetings last month with some Hong Kong politicians, Wang Guangya ( 王光亞 ), director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said it was normal for candidates’ popularity to fluctuate. In other words, Beijing wants to ensure Lam’s victory, even at the cost of undermining her popularity.

Beijing has been struggling to find the recipe for winning the hearts and minds of young people in Hong Kong since the Occupy Central protests. But its visible hand in the chief executive election is set to further alienate the young and educated Hongkongers who form the majority of the support base for John Tsang Chun-wah, the underdog in the leadership race with the most mass appeal. In a survey commissioned by the Post early last month, a majority of respondents aged 18-44 backed the former financial secretary.

People gather outside government headquarters in Tamar last September to mark the second anniversary of the Occupy Central movement. Beijing has been struggling to find the recipe for winning the hearts and minds of young people in Hong Kong since the protests. Photo: Sam Tsang

Worse, some Beijing loyalists who peddle the rumour that the central government does not trust Tsang are escalating their campaign against him by linking him and his supporters to “external political forces”. Commentaries in pro-Beijing newspapers also queried whether Tsang really “loves China” and “loves Hong Kong”, as 80 per cent of his nominators come from the pan-democratic camp, or what those newspapers call the “opposition camp”.

This comes a mere seven months after Wang pinned hopes on pan-democrats becoming a “constructive force” in Hong Kong. The Beijing loyalists are thus offsetting the goodwill Wang and other pragmatic mainland officials were nurturing.

Former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee made a good point after she crashed out of the chief executive race last week. Asked if Beijing had interfered in the city’s leadership race, she said she hoped the central government would allow Hong Kong people to practise “two systems”.

Spot on, Regina.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor

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How Hong Kong’s next chief executive can help kill talk of independence

CommentInsight & Opinion
Michael C. Davis says the city’s next leader must understand that only progress towards the universal suffrage promised in the Basic Law can heal our political divide

Having spent the past couple of months in America as a visiting democracy fellow, I have been struck by the huge gap in perception between progressive Americans on the left and Donald Trump’s supporters on the right. A similar divide was evident over Brexit in the UK last summer and has been lifting its ugly head in elections in France and Italy. Such gaps have appeared in the past – from Carter to Reagan, from Bush to Obama – but somehow the institutions of democracy eventually work to moderate the divide.

This observation has caused me to reflect on the growing divide between the more radical localists and the establishment camp in Hong Kong. As candidates step forward with claims to fill the soon-to-be-vacant office of the chief executive, it may be time for a change of tone. Whoever wins will have to deal with this political divide.

One can only despair at recent government attempts to dismiss multiple legislators elected by a popular mandate that the chief executive himself lacks. Will the new chief executive candidates offer a path to reconciliation or will the divide between the establishment and the pan-democratic camps grow into an insurmountable chasm?

It is widely understood that the radical independence advocates are pursuing an impossible goal. This is not because a city state of Hong Kong’s size is impossible but simply because the mainland regime they face will not allow it. Practically, a city on the edge of a large country can divorce itself from that country and still thrive; Singapore and Malaysia are testimony to that. If China for some crazy reason would not want the services of Hong Kong’s vast pool of talent, the rest of the region and the world would. The reason the independence movement is a non-starter is simply because China will not allow it.Perhaps the argument for independence might be that you hang on until China reforms and becomes more willing to let its peripheral communities go their own way. But when that level of political reform arises in China, the reason for opting out would have gone.

This brings us back to the problem of polarisation. Most mainstream democrats have distanced themselves from the independence calls, knowing such to be a non-starter. Even practical members of the “localist camp” have pragmatically shifted to the language of “self-determination”.

These calls by youngsters are clearly expressions of protest and outrage because of the failure of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to deliver on their very clear promises in the Basic Law for universal suffrage. These protesters see a Hong Kong government very beholden to Beijing with no capacity to defend Hong Kong’s autonomy – an autonomy upon which the rule of law in Hong Kong depends. With it, they see their identity as Hongkongers in danger of erasure.

So what is the government to do? Our new chief executive candidates need to answer this question. Tough love is surely not the answer. Instead, there is a need to stop bullying Hong Kong into submission. It is obvious to anyone who knows the common sense of Hong Kong people that reopening the reform debate and allowing the universal suffrage promised in the Basic Law would bring any support for independence to an end.

The burden will be on the future chief executive to explain the reality of Hong Kong concerns to leaders in Beijing. A leader who fails to do so may win points in Beijing but will surely continue to polarise Hong Kong politics, encouraging more and more expressions of discontent.

The thing about polarisation in the West is that democratic institutions will eventually sort out these differences. In an open society, such differences cannot be bullied away. The voter’s right to speak is ultimately on the path to moderation, even as difficult struggles will always occur along the way.

If the government succeeds in getting the four democratically elected legislators removed, perhaps this would be the time for any principled member of the Election Committee to withdraw support from a candidate who fails to offer a better path forward.

Professor Michael C. Davis specialises in constitutional law and human rights

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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