Policy address the time for Leung Chun-ying to stand and deliver
Chief executive has strong support of nation's leaders but must show he can solve the city's problems and regain the people's trust
Tony Cheung and Colleen Lee
Leung Chun-ying won't have much time to relax following his trip to Beijing before putting the finishing touches to the policy address he will deliver in 24 days' time.
The chief executive will do so confident in the knowledge that he has the strong support of the nation's leaders but aware that it won't do much to make his job easier. A week before giving his policy address, Leung faces an unprecedented move in the legislature to impeach him.
Leung knows it is time for him to show, through the policy address, that he can solve the city's problems and regain the trust of the public, which has been dented by a series of controversies.
Beijing's support for Leung was threefold.
First, Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping told Leung his administration was "progressive, striving, pragmatic and promising".
In a break with past practice, by which a visiting Hong Kong chief executive would first meet the president or premier, Leung's first meeting was with Xi, who will become the country's leader in March. They met in the company of the officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs and their expected successors.
Then, on Friday, both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao expressed full confidence in Hong Kong's future and endorsed the work of Leung's administration.
Hu, offering rare praise, said the administration had put livelihood issues first and made solving housing problems and tackling poverty its priorities - something "recognised by the people".
In a separate meeting, Wen urged Leung to solve livelihood issues such as employment, inflation, housing, poverty, the environment and care for the elderly, which were "matters of practical interest to our Hong Kong compatriots".
Leung, unlike his predecessors, did not return from the capital with a handful of new policy initiatives but a to-do list. Wen's diagnosis of the city's problems could also be a timely reminder to Leung of what he must do to resolve the "deep-rooted conflicts" in Hong Kong that the premier twice urged Leung's predecessor Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to tackle.
Four of the six problems Wen identified - housing, poverty, the environment and the ageing population - chime with Leung's own priorities; they are issues he has raised repeatedly since taking office.
Leung should also pay attention to Wen's two other points - employment and the high cost of living. The government reported recently that the unemployment rate for September to November was 3.4 per cent, while year-on-year inflation in October was 3.8 per cent. However, academics have warned that the lack of employment opportunities outside of property development and finance is stifling the city. Lawmakers complain that "unreasonable" proposals to raise bus fares and electricity tariffs will stoke inflation.
While Leung may be expected to tackle these issues in his policy address, he will be well aware that seemingly trivial matters can attract fresh criticism, especially after he was blasted by critics for crossing his legs while meeting Wen in April. Leung did not cross his legs at any of his meetings this time around.
Though he received the endorsement of state leaders, they will also have taken soundings from their aides and Hong Kong liaison office, and appeared alert to the public's sentiment. Commentators said that in the meeting with Leung, Xi focused on principles rather than giving him a ringing personal endorsement.
It appears the leadership has done the most that it can in its capacity, and that Leung and his minsters will be left pretty much on their own as they fight to regain Hongkongers' confidence.