• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:22am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2012, 3:18am

Beijing's eagerness to take charge undermines HK autonomy

Frank Ching says the central government ought to know when to ease off and let its appointed leader in Hong Kong get on with the job

It is extremely unfortunate that a marine tragedy that cost 39 lives has provided the cause for another row between Hong Kong and the mainland.

It is true, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his National Day address, that it is "essential for Hong Kong to develop alongside the mainland" and so confrontation is not in anyone's interests.

That said, however, the way in which the mainland responded to the tragedy is deeply unsettling. First of all, Li Gang, deputy director of the central government's liaison office, adopted a high profile by visiting Queen Mary Hospital, speaking to the media, disclosing that there had been fatalities and announcing that barges would be sent from the mainland to assist in salvage operations.

This took place even before the Hong Kong government had announced that a number of people had died, or that mainland assistance had been requested.

The liaison office created the impression that it, not the Leung administration, was running Hong Kong. What made it worse was that the official China News Service subsequently reported - erroneously - that "professional boats from China successfully rescued 95 people" when the truth was that the boats were unneeded and returned to the mainland without ever being deployed here.

Intentionally or not, the mainland undermined the authority of the chief executive, at a time when his popularity ratings badly need a boost.

Moreover, as this newspaper reported, state broadcaster China Central Television ran a headline in a report on the disaster, saying that President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-President Xi Jinping had issued "important instructions" ordering the Hong Kong government to spare no effort in "searching for missing persons, treating the injured and comforting their relatives".

No doubt, on the mainland, the central government is accustomed to giving orders to subordinate governments. But Hong Kong is supposed to be different, with its high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs.

Since the handling of a maritime accident cannot by any stretch of the imagination be construed as either a matter of foreign affairs or defence, it was inappropriate for the central government to issue orders on how the incident should be handled.

The Hong Kong government, of course, was already doing everything that could be done, even without such urging. But, it seems, the central government simply cannot resist its tendency to be in control. Unlike Tung Chee-hwa, who refused to go to Chek Lap Kok when there were problems with the new airport, saying he did not want to put on a show and get in the way, Leung was on the scene almost immediately to evaluate the situation before going on to Queen Mary Hospital to comfort the injured.

He certainly looked like someone who was in charge - until Li Gang arrived uninvited.

The chief executive was appointed by the central authorities. They should let him do his job.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@scmp.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1


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By guiding readers to read the incident from a certain angle, Frank Ching further damages CE Leung's leadership "when he needs a boost most", "intentionally or not".
Great piece by Frank Ching -- he has hit the nail on the head! Kudos to SCMP for fair and balanced reporting!
Frank is right. They should have used better judgement and let CY Leung get on with his job and let HK deal with this manageable situation since the place is still an ‘autonomous’ place, isn’t it?
China should know not to interfere at all and respect the ‘one country; two systems’ agreement. They should just focus on their own domestic disasters and internal problems to deal with – it is not that they don’t have enough of them.
Messages of concern and condolences from high-ranking politicians and leaders of the CCP will always be deeply suspect when their party has such a poor human rights record for the world to see.
(I wonder if the official China News Service re-corrected their false reporting that China themselves rescued 95 people?)
Exactly, especially when a big concern of the public is Mainland encroachment on HK's autonomy.
Frank Ching is spot on. It is correct for national resources to be available to support HK, when needed and requested. The high profile presence of the Liaison Office was wrong. It was a matter of the Chief Executive and his uniformed services. Many cities have multiple layers of government. Cities like New York, Sydney, Vancouver have three layers (national, state/province, city). The organisations, mandates, staffing, budgets, and internal and inter-agency workings are clear and transparent. In Hong Kong we only have two layers of Government. We do not have explicit documented or established procedures for the workings between the two layers, quite unlike other countries. Our 'one country, two systems' arrangement is still in a formative stage. We know every detail of the local government in Hong Kong, but little of the national government in Hong Kong. Maybe one way to start building trust is by switching on the light.
How you define "high profile presence" and why was it wrong? All what they were doing was to offer help and send their condolences. What would have been the babble of the media and public if they hadn't shown up and hadn't react? Rembember at the New Orleans flood how much critics the Bush Administration and Bush himself received when he didn't show up at that place? That he was accused of just "do not care" (for the blacks)? yes, then he flown over with his Airforce one, but the damage was done (and fully correct).
This is ridiculous that we are so sensitive of every thing China does. To me they are just trying to help on a tragic situation.
The SCMP more and more becomes a forum of mindless babble. I regret to have subscribed for a year. And yes, I read the paper on the mainland, on line and in print in public places. Get a hold of yourself. Hong Kong is and was Chinese, for some time under foreign occupation, that's all what's special about it.
HK is sick place that people care less about the death but focusing on political stuff.
Thank you for the subtlety of your argumentation...
We also regret you subscribed for a year.


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