Healing hands

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am


Ever since the election last month of Leung Chun-ying as the next chief executive, the central government has been urging reconciliation. Wang Guangya , the director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, advised Hong Kong to strive for reconciliation and unity now that the election was over, while Premier Wen Jiabao said he expected Leung's new team to unify different sectors of society - a point also emphasised by President Hu Jintao - and to foster the cohesion of minds on the way ahead.

The 'Great Reconciliation' has now become a catchphrase in local politics. With many media commentaries focusing on the healing of wounds within the establishment camp following the bitter contest between Leung and former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, which allegedly resulted in a serious split, the real point of a reconciliation has sometimes been lost.

The idea of a great reconciliation was first mooted in 1995 by Taiwan's Shih Ming-teh, the former Democratic Progressive Party chairman, as a settlement between the opposition and the Kuomintang regime, to end the decades-long fission and confrontation in Taiwanese politics. His idea was, however, jeered by both sides of the political divide, and he was ultimately forced to leave his party.

Borrowing the idea from Taiwan, a few democrats in Hong Kong talked of a great reconciliation in the past as a way to resolve the perennial conflict between the pro-Beijing camp and the pro-democracy groups after the 1989 Tiananmen incident. But, like Shih, those who raised the idea were either humiliated by their 'comrades' or simply ignored.

Most recently, in February, the idea of a great reconciliation was picked up by Tsang Yok-sing, president of the Legislative Council and founder of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, the pro-Beijing flagship. He tried to pave the way for steering a middle course in local politics.

It is therefore most interesting that Beijing seems to have endorsed the notion of a great reconciliation as a recipe for Hong Kong's political future.

The full meaning of such a reconciliation will take time to evolve, through political debates and interactions, but the background of the term suggests that it will not be simply a truce between the two wings of the establishment camp.

As I wrote in this column after the election, Leung launched his campaign as a challenger and reformer from within the establishment, advocating 'change amid stability', versus Tang's 'progress in stability'. Leung places more emphasis on the needs of the ordinary people, promising proactive social and economic policies as well as measures to address the widening wealth gap. His victory will usher in new points of departure within the establishment in the understanding and tackling of the looming problems of social conflict and alienation.

Beijing's support for him also reflects a departure from its strong reliance on business, which characterised its policy immediately before and after the 1997 transition, in the belief that this was necessary to keep the city capitalist and prosperous.

Apart from the class dimension, any great reconciliation should point to a fundamental rethink of Hong Kong's divided polity as we advance towards universal suffrage in electing the chief executive in 2017 and the whole of the legislature in 2020, according to Beijing's timetable. Over the past two decades, political polarisation has worsened because of the divide over democratisation and central-local political relations.

Sectoral and partisan differences are permanent features of any polity, whether democratic or authoritarian. Any government must have the necessary competence and tolerance to handle such differences. The best way to accommodate political pluralism is through a credible democratic system.

A great reconciliation is not meant to reduce diverse views to one single voice, or effect the co-option of one camp by another, but to champion the spirit of mutual accommodation and respect based on dialogue.

But, neither should a great reconciliation become a straitjacket that hinders the next government from being responsive in its policies and reaching out to different sectors, just for the sake of compromising with the status quo and the interests conglomerating around it.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is an executive councillor and founder of SynergyNet, a policy think tank