Onus is on CY Leung to project 'world city' image at Apec summit

All eyes will be on how chief executive performs on the world stage at the Apec summit in Bali

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 6:15am

How does Hong Kong live up to its billing as "Asia's World City"? A global vision for its leader and residents is one condition it must fulfil.

After more than a year in office, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is making his maiden appearance on the world stage by attending the Apec Leaders' Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Leung will sit down with leaders from across the Asia-Pacific to discuss regional issues, though US President Barack Obama will not be among them as he remains in Washington to deal with the government shutdown.

Leung can, perhaps, sympathise. The chief executive's first opportunity to make himself heard in the international arena should have come at the same summit last year, but he was forced to pull out at the last minute and stay at home to deal with the crisis over plans for national education in schools. The government was forced to drop the curriculum after mass protests erupted amid fears the subject would "brainwash" pupils.

Crises come and go, but the problems Leung has faced since he took office have seemed endless. Yet he has managed to keep promoting what he calls "internal diplomacy" - enhancing Hong Kong's exchanges with the mainland.

He recently announced that he had made 10 official visits to various provinces so far, with more to come. While the necessity of such exchanges is recognised by many, there has been concern among some of Leung's aides that the chief executive has not, or has not been seen to have, put the same effort into promoting the city's international connections.

Leung would, of course, disagree. But the perception remains, and was enhanced by the unexpected circumstances of his first overseas trip, a visit to the US to promote bilateral trade. His brief stay was overshadowed by the Edward Snowden saga, as he was bombarded with questions from reporters on how he would handle the case of the US intelligence whistle-blower who was hiding out in Hong Kong.

So when Leung headed to Bali on Saturday, it marked the beginning of his first real overseas performance. Under the "one country, two systems" principle, Hong Kong - as an independent economic entity - maintains its membership to key organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. But many will focus on one aspect of Leung's trip: what topics did his meeting with President Xi Jinping touch on?

The attention is understandable, given the many tough issues facing the city: from the yet unknown consequences of the Occupy Central protest movement to the deep divisions on how to achieve universal suffrage in 2017, not to mention issues such as housing and poverty. It would be reasonable then to guess that the city's woes were Leung and Xi's common concern when they met yesterday. Another likely issue on their agenda: How can Hong Kong ensure the smooth hosting of the Apec financial ministers' meeting in September, given the city's previous summit of that scale, the 2005 WTO ministerial meeting, gave Hong Kong its first taste of a mass, internationally organised protests?

But from a broader perspective, Leung is not just going to the Apec meeting to brief Xi on Hong Kong; he can do all that without going to Bali. Rather, his mission will be this: For the sake of maintaining Hong Kong's status as a vibrant "world city", he must demonstrate to his Apec counterparts the city's unique nature and advantages on many fronts. He must show what Hong Kong's role will be, as an Apec member, in maintaining sustainable and balanced development in the region.

The Apec forum is also a perfect venue for leaders to establish good relations. But we expect Leung to grasp this chance to explore more international opportunities for the city. Only by maintaining a good balance between "internal diplomacy" with the mainland and international connections can Hong Kong continue to be a real "world city". We therefore need to look not just at the Xi-Leung talks but also at how our chief executive performs in his first show on the world stage.