Duty visit shows Leung Chun-ying is out of favour in Beijing

Albert Cheng says with Beijing now seemingly tightening its controls over the governing of Hong Kong, the city's autonomy is under threat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 3:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 3:31am

With ever plunging popularity ratings, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying recently went on his duty visit to Beijing. There he met with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress, and Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

The visit clearly showed how dissatisfied Beijing leaders were with Leung's governance and that his low popularity ratings have also affected Hong Kong's status, turning it into just an ordinary Chinese city in the eyes of state leaders.

Wang told reporters that the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau would in the future be required to include their shortcomings in work reports submitted annually to state leaders, instead of focusing only on accomplishments.

On the duty visit, the chief executives will be required to report on any new plans their administrations have for the year ahead and spell out any difficulties they have implementing the Basic Law. Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office will reportedly take a more proactive and prominent role in monitoring Hong Kong affairs, including summoning principal officials to Beijing to report on work progress.

Hong Kong has seemingly reached a point where there is no "one country, two systems" or "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".

In 1995, a Fortune magazine cover story entitled "The Death of Hong Kong" predicted that the prosperous days of the city would be over after the handover. Unfortunately, the prediction has become reality because of Leung's incompetency.

It is common knowledge that as the leader of Hong Kong with high autonomy, the chief executive's duty visits in the past mostly centred on theoretical discussions and the theme was often decided by the chief executive himself.

The role of state leaders was mainly to show support and they would customarily go through the motions and reinforce the principles of "one country, two systems" and "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa , for example, was personally appointed by former president Jiang Zemin , so no ordinary ranking Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office officials would dare tell him how to conduct his business.

Only after seven years of bad governance did Tung lose his power and special status. After Hu Jintao took over as president, Tung was openly reprimanded and forced to admit his shortcomings. Tung finally stepped down the following year.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen didn't have the same privileges as chief executive compared to Tung, but he was fully supported by Liao Hui , then director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. During his time as chief executive, duty visits were also theory discussions and merely stage shows to demonstrate support from Beijing.

But now Leung has been given totally different treatment. This shows that Beijing no longer trusts Leung and his way of governance.

Furthermore, state leaders will not accept his empty talk and theory discussions. That also explained why three principal officials went with Leung to the capital, presumably so state leaders could learn more about policy issues in detail.

In other words, the central government has put him under strict parameters in the way he operates.

Many of us do not agree with Leung's governance style, but we certainly do not like to see the chief executive lose power and control over the governing of Hong Kong. His downfall, which is leading to the loss of the city's high level of autonomy, deeply saddens me.

It's understandable why the central government wants to have a tighter grip on Hong Kong affairs, especially on political reforms. They fear once the Occupy Central movement takes hold, it may get out of control. They seem to want to rid Leung of all power and put his deputy - Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor - in charge.

Leung messed up rolling out the national education programme, reining in local media and reforming the political system. What remains now is the implementation of national security law, which would prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.

At this point, Beijing leaders may not force Leung to step down, but they certainly will do all they can to keep a tight rein on him. All governance will be left in the hands of the civil service, while Leung will only be a puppet leader fulfilling ceremonial duties. If he doesn't stir up any problems, he may be allowed to finish his term.

Leung's incompetency is allowing the central government to take over Hong Kong affairs sooner than expected.

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