Beijing needs to temper its high-handed attitude towards Hong Kong

Gary Cheung says the pro-establishment camp’s relatively poor showing in the Legco election and the rise of localism should ring alarm bells with the central government about the need to reach out to pan-democrat moderates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 7:47pm

If mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs trust the Legislative Council election reporting by the newspapers they fund, they must think that all is rosy.

On September 6, for instance, pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po splashed with “Pro-establishment camp achieve good results, outdoing opposition despite high turnout”. And a front-page headline in Ta Kung Pao read: “Pro-establishment camp claim victory against all odds”.

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In fact, the pro-establishment camp won 40 of the 70 seats, down from 43 in the 2012 election.

One inconvenient truth for Beijing is the fact that, despite the pro-establishment camp’s strong electioneering machinery and abundant resources for district work, its vote share in geographical constituencies dropped from 42.2 per cent in 2012 to 40.2 per cent.

More telling is the widening vote-share gap in the “super seats”, which are returned by more than three million voters. In 2012, pan-democrats secured three of the five “super seats” with 50.7 per cent of total valid votes, while the pro-establishment camp garnered 45 per cent, the rest going to maverick candidate Pamela Peck Wan-kam. This year, six pan-democratic candidates won 58 per cent of the vote, compared with 42 per cent for their pro-establishment rivals.

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Beijing may find the pan-democrats’ victory in some functional constituencies particularly worrying. In the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, Edward Yiu Chung-yim unseated pro-establishment incumbent and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying supporter Tony Tse Wai-chuen by a comfortable margin. This is the first time since the handover that the functional constituency has gone to pan-democrats. Kenneth Leung and Charles Mok, incumbent pan-democrats representing the accountancy and information-technology sectors respectively, beat their pro-establishment rivals by a much bigger margin than in 2012.

The pro-establishment camp now looks like another state-owned enterprise whose rate of return is disproportionate to the resources pumped in

The central government should not turn a blind eye to the alienation of the professional elite in the wake of Leung Chun-ying’s divisive governing style and Beijing’s high-handed approach to Hong Kong.

The pro-establishment camp now looks like another state-owned enterprise whose rate of return is disproportionate to the resources pumped in, and a value-for-money assessment is badly needed.

Beijing should conduct some serious soul-searching on the election outcome and adjust its hardline approach to ease tensions in Hong Kong. It should return to Deng Xiaoping’s ( 鄧小平 ) original intent when he mapped out the strategy for the post-handover period. In 1984, he laid down lenient criteria for patriots running Hong Kong after 1997: “A patriot is one who sincerely supports the motherland’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong and wishes not to impair Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability”. Deng also argued that “those who meet these requirements are a patriot, whether they believe in capitalism or feudalism, or even slavery.” Deng’s words sound like something from the distant past when mainland officials keep insisting that the nation’s sovereignty and security take precedence over maintaining Hong Kong’s prosperity.

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Amid the rising tide of localism and separatism, the Democratic Party, which seeks democracy within the framework of “one country, two systems”, won seven seats, one more than four years ago.

Beijing should regain the pragmatism it exercised in 2010, when it held talks with the Democrats on electoral reform, and engage the party. It is high time for officials in Beijing to show that moderates can get some reward for engaging in dialogue with them.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor