CITY BEAT TAMMY TAM
City Beat
by

Controversial comments by Legislative Council president prompt questions about Hong Kong’s future role as part of China

Beijing makes it crystal clear that independence advocates cannot be allowed to enter Legco and no independence advocacy should be tolerated in schools

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 9:29pm

Wild guessing and speculation was the unavoidable result when a mainland news portal quietly took down a recent interview posted online featuring a Hong Kong political heavyweight who may run for the city’s top job revealing his differences with incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Last Friday, in an interview with the Shanghai-based Jiemian online platform, outgoing Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing candidly admitted he did not see eye to eye with Leung’s judgment on political issues, including the way he handled opposition forces.

Naturally, some interpreted the publication of the interview as evidence that Tsang had Beijing’s green light to run for chief executive. But could the mysterious disappearance of the interview mean the opposite? The veteran politician himself said the next day that his words had been “twisted” by the local media and he was not opposed to Leung’s administration.

But there’s no playing down the speculation these days about the “dark horses” for next year’s leadership election. “Who will you support?” has become an unavoidable question, even for candidates running in September’s Legislative Council elections.

Yet, every time candidates are grilled on this by their rivals or hosts at election forums, a more fundamental question seems to be missing – what kind of Hong Kong do we want in the next five to 10 years or beyond and where are Hong Kong-Beijing relations heading, given recent calls for independence.

Beijing, no doubt, wants to nip independence ideas in the bud. Recent comments by Beijing officials suggest two bottom lines: independence advocates cannot be allowed to enter Legco and no independence advocacy should be tolerated in schools.

There are many who are convinced that independence for Hong Kong is no more than just an idle fantasy among fringe extremists. However, a recent localist rally, which organisers promoted as “making history”, might have changed everything.

When more than 2,500 localists, mainly young people, gathered at Tamar Park outside government headquarters earlier this month to protest against the disqualification of a number of independence advocates eyeing Legco seats, they were indeed “making history” – it was the first legally organised rally with a clear Hong Kong independence theme and it was sanctioned by police through a notice of no objection.

This illustrates the complexities in the implementation of “one country, two systems”. The situation will only get more complicated in future, presenting quandaries for the city’s next leader.

Beijing has zero tolerance for independence advocacy and the majority of Hongkongers are not supporters of separatism, but the central government has to accept the reality that public gatherings over the contentious issue are still allowed in this city, as long as they remain peaceful and do not violate existing laws.

Some have pointed out that not necessarily everyone who turned up at Tamar was an independence advocate, as some might have simply been taking the opportunity to vent their frustrations against the government. But this “historic” rally served as a timely reminder for Beijing to seriously review Hong Kong’s position and role as part of China.

The days when Hong Kong was regarded as the “bridge” between the mainland and the outside world are over. The task Beijing now lays before Hong Kong is this: to connect its long-term prosperity and stability with the safeguarding of national sovereignty, security and developmental interests. These may sound like abstract concepts, but they are concrete criteria to anyone who wants the top job.

They can also “sandwich” the city’s leader between a rock and a hard place.

As the old Chinese saying goes, just as gold is never pure, no one is perfect. A chief executive candidate with no shortcomings may not exist, but the city as a whole needs to do some serious soul-searching on its future role and what kind of leader it needs. And that leader faces the daunting task of convincing the public that the interests of Hong Kong and that of the nation are not and should not be mutually exclusive.