Xi Jinping

Human touch

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am

Understanding people and their ways requires knowing them. It is a fundamental rule for successful teamwork, whether in the office or on the sports field. But it is also essential for government leaders and politicians if their policies and proposals are to be accepted. The less we know about them personally, the more difficult it is to appreciate what they do or say.

That occurred to me last week while getting up to date with US President Barack Obama's visit to Ireland. He guzzled a pint of Guinness during a tour of the company's brewery in Dublin so eagerly that it is clear he enjoys a beer or two. Beer is a fine accompaniment to hamburgers, which the leader has made no secret that he enjoys. Like Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, he can be related to because he is so giving of his personal life.

I have no idea what President Hu Jintao likes to eat; in fact, I seem to know more about North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, whom he met last week, than I do about our leader. All China watchers can tell me after his eight years in office is he was a good dancer when a student at Tsinghua University. Slightly more is known about Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-President Xi Jinping , largely through their high-profile wives.

Hong Kong's political leaders do not fare much better. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's schooling, upbringing as the son of a top police officer and civil service record are part of the public domain. Beyond that, I learned from media reports and political journalist colleagues that he is a devout Catholic who goes to church each morning, keeps rare and expensive Japanese carp, is a birdwatcher and rewards himself on special occasions by buying a new Rolex watch or two. That may sound like a lot, but without having met someone who knows him personally, it is all that I have gleaned - and, in total, it makes him appear aloof, detached and eccentric. I certainly cannot relate to him.

Consider, then, that even less is known about the personal life of chief secretary and presumed chief executive front-runner Henry Tang Ying-yen (a wealthy wine collector) or Tsang's predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa (a wealthy son of a shipping magnate). Of the other potential chief executive candidates, Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying is an avid horticulturist (his Mid-Levels apartment is awash with plants) and lawmaker and former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has her own political party, think-tank and a seven-seater car. But the one who ranks highest in the public opinion polls for the job is former Legislative Council president and National People's Congress Standing Committee member Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai. I am sure that that is largely down to so much being known about her personal life, especially her family's and her own health struggles.

Whoever is chosen to be chief executive has to be trusted by the central government and Hong Kong's people. If they are to be accepted and supported locally, they also have to be upfront and transparent. Keeping their lives all but secret won't do that; it can only be done if they have a personal face that we can relate to. With acceptability, being 'human' is as important as doing and saying what is right.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post