Backing from the top, but key questions need answers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 12:00am

Amid growing signs of desperation about the future, Mr Zhu's vote of confidence in the strengths and competitiveness of Hong Kong in the long-run may soothe economic pain. But one question is: for how long?

Coincidence it may be, but Mr Zhu's reassurances on Hong Kong have addressed concerns about the state of the territory as the new leadership team enters its fifth month in office.

Fears about the political and economic development of the SAR have been further complicated by the leadership changes in Beijing following the end of the Communist Party's 16th plenum.

Two key questions arise. First, whether the policy of the central government towards Hong Kong will change. Secondly, whether new leaders in charge of Hong Kong affairs will change direction on policy implementation, and if so, what this will mean for the leadership of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Without directly referring to the leadership change, Mr Zhu sought to reaffirm the 'irreplaceable and unique role' of Hong Kong in the country's modernisation drive.

Beijing would continue to give full support to Hong Kong as it had always in the past, said the premier, who is due to step down at the next National People's Congress in the spring.

Mr Zhu used his charisma and persuasiveness to convince his audience that policy will remain unchanged.

A close adviser to Mr Tung said: 'Mr Zhu's remarks will allay concerns about a change of policy towards Hong Kong and any second thoughts about Mr Tung's leadership. But even though there won't be major changes to policy, some subtle changes are inevitable when policies are implemented by new hands.'

Given the wider representation of regional interests in the Politburo, the Tung adviser said processing of policy decisions that hinged upon conflicting interests would take more time to resolve.

The fact is, it has become the norm rather than the exception for some mainland cadres to publicly ridicule SAR officials on their workstyle and mindsets, not to mention remarks made by Mr Zhu last year about the indecisiveness of the Tung leadership.

On the local front, one veteran politician said the fact that seven property developers had united against electricity tariff increases showed the emergence of anxieties about the Tung leadership.

Mr Zhu's plea for a fair evaluation and sympathy over the constraints faced by Mr Tung in solving pre-1997 problems will not fundamentally change public perception.

If short-term difficulties prove to be long-term, confidence will wear thin. Mr Zhu's soothing words will then become a mere harsh reminder of the good old days in Hong Kong.