March 04, 2005

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The new Hong Kong

Day 1 and Day 2 coverage.

Jake van der Kamp in today's SCMP on Tung's legacy:

The fact is that, in the run-up to the handover of sovereignty in 1997, the world's press was full of speculation that Hong Kong's civil liberties would vanish when we came under Beijing's thumb.

It never happened. Thus if foreign journalists are now to issue a report card on Mr Tung's administration, the first thing they should say is that in one key area of particular interest to them, he fully lived up to the high hopes vested in him. They owe him that much, at least, after all the doubts they cast on him in 1997. We have our civil liberties as fully as we ever had them under British administration and this is a very good record.

Whether by design or accident, that much is true, with one major exception. The "right of abode" saw Hong Kong's Basic Law overriden by a "re-interpretation" by Beijing. This overruled not just the Basic Law but decisions by the highest courts in Hong Kong. Now it is happening again. ESWN has covered the relevant Basic Law articles. Article 46 clearly states:
The term of office of the Chief Executive (CE) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be five years. He or she may serve for not more than two consecutive terms.
The newly elected CE should have a 5 year term. But that doesn't suit Beijing for a number of reasons. China would rather give the new CE a two year probation period to test his loyalty and competence. It's a recipie for paralysis. The other potential CE candidates aren't going to do anything rash, so there goes any chance of tax reform or a revamp of the West Kowloon Cultural District. Chris Yeung in the SCMP discusses Donald Tsang:
Beijing would be able to test the leadership qualities and loyalty of Mr Tsang while keeping other aspirants for the top post in 2007. This could be vital, as resistance and suspicion towards Mr Tsang remains strong in business and political quarters, particularly in the pro-Beijnig camp. [my emphasis]
The qualities that potentially make Donald Tsang an effective CE are the ones that make China wary. At the same time they don't want to see en masse resignations from the other CE contenders who miss out. So Hong Kong is going to get another Basic Law interpretation, stating the replacement will serve out only the remainder of Tung's term. It's ironic that Tung's resignation should be the cause of the second de facto change in the Basic Law by Beijing. They will also need to clear up if the new CE could stand for a second term if he or she was reappointed in 2007.

If this is confusing, you're not alone. Democratic Party leader Martin Lee flip-flopped over the need for a Beijing interpretation on the CE's term. Another example: one potential candidate is Leung Chun-ying, says The Standard. Interesting, because page 3 of the SCMP has a headline reading "Leung Chun-ying rules himself out".

A two year term is a political expediency, albeit a short-sighted one. While the probationary CE will be elected by the 800 strong Election Committee, the door remains open for democrats to push for a broader committee for 2007/8 or even universal suffrage. The democrats are quixotically considering putting a candidate forward to advance their cause. It is irrelevant. The experiment of having a tycoon run Hong Kong didn't work out, so China is reverting to the pattern the British used so successfully. Civil servants and technocrats will run the place, answerable to the capital of the motherland. Hong Kong's Chief Executive has only one master thousands of miles away, rather than 6.7 million masters living in the city. The CE rules at Beijing's pleasure and can be dismissed at their pleasure. The message is clear to any potential candidates and the people of Hong Kong.

Reaction and updates

* Tom has a good overview of the state of play and suggests take Ma Lik's advice and chill for a bit... because the theater in the next few weeks have little to do with democracy and will have little bearing on the facade of "one country, two systems", but it might be as entertaining as "War and Beauty".
* Stephen Vines discusses Beijing pulling the strings.
(14:10) * Simon Parker at Asia Times recaps events.
(17:23) * Tom covers more reaction and prepares to enjoy the show.
* Yan is ambivalent about the next CE given she and the rest of Hong Kong have no say in the matter.
(21:41) * Spike also isn't impressed by Tung nor his successor, and contemplates potential Tung nostalgia in the future.

posted by Simon on 03.04.05 at 02:11 PM in the


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re: the sacrificial candidate.
according to singtao, the pan-democratic camp is seeking anson chan to run.she turned them down last time already.their idea is that this candidate will run and lose badly in order to show how broken the system is.why would anson chan throw herself away like that?not to fear, albert cheng said: "if nobody else wants to do this,i'll volunteer myself."what a show!

posted by: eswm on 03.04.05 at 11:31 AM [permalink]

Is now the time to start a Long Hair for CE campaign?

I'd love to see Albert Cheng do it - how would he handle the Housing Authority and LINK?

posted by: Simon on 03.04.05 at 11:52 AM [permalink]

Jeez, we can read the Standard ourselves thanks!!!

posted by: arnold on 03.07.05 at 08:15 AM [permalink]

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