Leung Chun-ying

Xi offers Leung measured praise and frank challenges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 1:57am

Political rhetoric in China can be so subtle and loaded that people often read between the lines of the remarks made by state leaders to find out the true meaning. This is reflected in the mixed interpretations of Xi Jinping's comments on Hong Kong and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during his first duty visit to Beijing. Flanked by a new team of officials in charge of the city's affairs, the president-to-be said Beijing's policies on Hong Kong would remain unchanged. The assurance, which came as the city is going through one its most turbulent times since the handover, should be welcome news.

However, Xi also highlighted the need to "comprehensively and accurately understand and implement 'one country, two systems', as well as respect and safeguard the Basic Law". The emphasis, which was not mentioned in the meeting with Macau's leader, raised political eyebrows.

This is not the first time the Basic Law has been put on the agenda. It is often said that too much emphasis has been placed on the "two systems", so much so that the essence of "one country" has been overlooked. The call by the future president for better understanding of the mini-constitution has, inevitably, fuelled concerns that the city is not being administered as it should be from Beijing's point of view.

There is little doubt that Beijing's support and confidence in Hong Kong are as firm as ever. It is encouraging to see that the city's achievements over the past 15 years have been fully recognised by the outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao .

But the popular state leader was also frank about the challenges ahead. Given the current weak state of the world economy, he urged the Hong Kong government to show special concern about six areas: employment, prices, housing, poverty, the environment and an ageing population. This should be a timely reminder to the Leung team to work harder to improve people's livelihoods.

With the embattled chief executive facing an unprecedented move of impeachment in the Legislative Council, the show of support by state leaders over the past two days was to be expected. Although the motion, backed by 27 pan-democratic lawmakers, is unlikely to win support from the pro-government camp, Leung is fighting an uphill battle to restore confidence in his authority. Beijing's affirmation of his leadership can dispel rumours that he may be replaced. But it will do little to make his job easier.