National education in Hong Kong

Beijing will use tighter rein on Hong Kong, says analyst

Central government said to be losing patience with city and will demand national education

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 7:44am

Beijing will impose tighter control on Hong Kong regardless of the personnel reshuffle at the top next month, according to a veteran China watcher.

Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the central government was losing patience with the city, 15 years after it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Politburo leaders had an "antagonistic mentality", he said, predicting there would be persistent pressure to introduce national education despite immense local opposition and to strip the press of its freedom.

Lau's views differ from those of two other observers who feel Beijing's approach to Hong Kong will by and large remain stable.

The much-watched transition to the fifth generation of leadership is expected to see Vice-President Xi Jinping take the helm from President Hu Jintao .

Politburo member Li Yuanchao , a former party secretary of Jiangsu , is tipped to be promoted to vice-president overseeing Hong Kong affairs.

"I have known Li since the 1990s when he was deputy director of the State Council Information Office," Lau said. "He is a capable and open person, willing to contact journalists who are seen as oppositional or dissident."

But it was too early to be certain who would be the next point man on Hong Kong affairs. Li, if appointed, would bring about little change.

"But no matter who takes charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, the city will be in a tighter Beijing grip," Lau said.

What's more, the city's political and economic influences were on the wane at a time when its Beijing masters were feeling the pressure of trying to keep it in check.

"The city is no longer a role model for Taiwan in terms of demonstrating the principle of 'one country, two systems'," Lau said. "Economically, China can do what it was unable to do 15 years ago, while Hong Kong's residual significance is its international financial status."

He added: "With his rise, Xi will chair the Hong Kong-Macau leading group, but no longer the working group. So he will be less hands-on in terms of Hong Kong affairs."

The leading group is a permanent set-up headed by a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. The working group was formed in 2003 in response to a 500,000-strong march against the implementation of the Basic Law's Article 23 national security legislation, which prohibits any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government. The group consists of mainland officials and academics familiar with Hong Kong affairs.

In 2003, Hu exhorted the city to prevent "influence from foreign countries", Lau noted. During his latest visit to the city, on July 1, the scope of the warning was expanded to "external influence", which "included not only foreign powers but also local opposition".

But things may yet remain unchanged, according to National People's Congress deputy Wong Kwok-kin. Wong does not foresee any changes despite the shaky administration under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

"Under 'one country, two systems' there is not much Beijing can do about the problems facing Hong Kong," said Wong, of the Beijing-loyal Federation of Trade Unions. "The most the central government can pursue is to keep the city's economy vibrant to minimise ill will arising from livelihood issues."

A change of personnel, however, could make a difference, he added.

"It is a national policy, but the approach would change with the style of the person in charge. [Former Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director] Liao Hui was rather low-profile, while [current director] Wang Guangya handles the city's affairs in a more open and transparent manner. His behaviour is more traceable."

Beijing loyalist Ng Hon-mun expects stability on the whole. "I do not think the overall policy will change with the party congress," said Ng, a former NPC deputy.