On Hong Kong’s chief executive election, no news from Beijing is good news

Alice Wu says it’s time to stop looking to the central government for signs of the ‘anointed one’. It would be best if mainland officials learned from their experience in 2012 and allowed the city to pick its own leader

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2016, 10:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2016, 7:01pm

Who knows whether bringing in Marvel characters will boost visitor numbers to Hong Kong and the world’s smallest Disneyland. For a slice of the “happiest place on earth”, Hongkongers have already dished out quite a lot of public money. And, unfortunately for Hong Kong Disneyland, the news of its expansion bill comes at a time when the city seems awash with the grim results of various happiness surveys.

Disney’s taking Hong Kong for a ride

But, then again, perhaps some superhero action will add a bit of magic. Who knows, right?

It’s good to have hope. It’s Advent, after all, and hope is what this season is supposed to be about. But it’s also good to remember that, if we look for hope in the wrong places, we’ll just be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

As we gear up for the chief executive race, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Hong Kong’s next leader may already have emerged – if we take a Hollywood classic as a guide

First, superheroes don’t exist in politics. No one has the superpowers to get us out of our woes. We should not imagine some hero swooping in to make Hong Kong great again. In fact, we probably should stay far away from any chief executive hopeful who employs that sort of language.

Any day now, we should see contenders other than retired judge Woo Kwok-hing making their intentions clear. It’s late in the game. By this time in previous races, those vying for the top post were already helping their supporters win Election Committee polls, which this year will be held on December 11.

And unlike previously, Beijing is keeping mum this time.

Many see Beijing’s “silence” as a clear change in its handling of Hong Kong affairs – it is withholding its “blessings” because it does not want a repeat of the 2012 chief executive election, in which its “anointed one”, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, became “unelectable” after a series of scandals.

Some say Beijing is still undecided.

Whatever the reason, the lack of a clear indication should be welcomed. The Election Committee, widely seen as a farce of an institution, finally has a chance to gain a little credibility.

No news is good news for Hong Kong, and also smart policy for the cental government. Reading political tea leaves has not proved to be constructive for Beijing-Hong Kong relations. With growing distrust, Beijing would find itself in a better position if it stayed above the fray. The 2012 election was, after all, notable for its scandals, dirty tactics and smears; it’s best for Beijing to stay clear.

And those watching Beijing closely for indications should quit that bad habit now.

Watch: Leung Chun-ying meets Xi Jinping in Peru

Don’t read too much into handshakes with Beijing leaders for Hong Kong’s chief executive race

One plausible candidate, finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah, had a very public “to run or not to run” conversation with himself, and even likened the answer to “heaven’s secret”. But, still, Beijing said nothing.

Beijing is sending us an important message: we’re sticking to Basic Law Article 45 – you pick, we appoint.

This is why we should be hopeful: that Beijing is steering away from handpicking a candidate and is more focused now on principles and criteria, like the ones President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) reportedly told Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at their meeting on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Lima: policy implementation, consensus building, a focus on livelihood issues, safeguarding national unity, maintaining stability. That’s the job description for chief executive. It is now the job of the candidates to prove themselves qualified and capable.

And, until there is political reform, the Election Committee’s job is to determine which candidate is best for the job.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA