No surprise would-be leaders seek Beijing's favour, not ours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2011, 12:00am

Vice-premier Li Keqiang's three-day visit brought billions of dollars of 'gifts' to benefit the city's economy, which should have been an occasion to celebrate. Yet, his visit was unfortunately overshadowed by claims of heavy-handed security by police. Politics has again ruined a good thing.

Security arrangements were slammed as excessive to the extent that they had caused immense inconvenience to a cross-section of the community. They also prompted criticism from journalists that the police action violated press freedom and restricted freedom of expression and assembly, which are guaranteed by the Basic Law. The public continued to voice its discontent even after Li had left.

It's rare to see the three front runners for the post of chief executive agree on something. Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, former Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai and Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying all sided with the police in the face of mounting public discontent. Their motive was obvious - to demonstrate their unequivocal loyalty to the central government.

It's clear that no matter what the three have done in the past to try to win over public opinion, when it comes to crunch time, they will serve only one master - the central government. Public support is of course important, but the only kingmaker is Beijing.

It's still too early to expect candidates eyeing the top post to truly respect public opinion and be held accountable. That day will come, in 2017, when universal suffrage takes effect and the chief executive is directly elected.

By then, hopefully, those jostling for the top position will not need to look up to Beijing so much; candidates will have to do their utmost to win votes.

Tang, Fan and Leung might have inadvertently banded together to support the police action, but their comments were fundamentally different from one another.

Tang's remarks caused the most offence to many people, especially the media; he called criticism of the police restricting freedom of expression during Li's visit 'completely rubbish'. But, if we look closer at how he came to make that comment, we will see that it wasn't planned, but was, rather, an off-the-cuff remark. It might have sounded the most offensive, but it wasn't premeditated. So, at least we know Tang is not a calculating person.

On the other hand, Fan's comments came across as scripted. She said the tight security surrounding Li's visit was inevitable to guarantee the safety of a VIP and that we had to observe official protocol. She said she didn't think the police prevented protesters from expressing their views to Li and the security measures had nothing to do with trying to please a top mainland official.

The fact that Li didn't see any protests didn't mean freedom of expression was suppressed in Hong Kong, she said. Her comments might have sounded rather pleasing, but they were definitely 'rubbish'. To me, it's a classic case of fence-sitting. Hongkongers will no doubt see through her ulterior motive.

Finally, we have Leung, who tried to cool the overheated debate and calm public sentiment by defending the security measures, saying they were not exceptionally tough. He said the police would only step up security according to relevant intelligence information received to ensure the safety of visiting VIPs. However, he said he didn't know whether the police action during Li's visit was in response to intelligence reports, but added that we should trust their professional judgment.

It all sounded as if the police had received warnings of an imminent attack on Li. Leung has so much confidence in the police that maybe he should have defended Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung after the tough treatment of reporters and students at the University of Hong Kong in an attempt to silence their protests.

No wonder Hongkongers want full democracy; they know that one of the most useful purposes of entrenching democracy is to allow their voices to be heard.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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