Heavyweight Beijing adviser urges Hong Kong to reject negative ways

Peter Woo laments city’s hampered progress over the years and urges shake-up of political appointments system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 12:00am

Business and political heavyweight Peter Woo Kwong-ching said Hong Kong must realise what was in its interests and reject the “negative and passive monitoring” of government that had ­hindered progress in recent years.

Woo, former chairman of property giants Wheelock and Wharf Holdings, also said there was plenty to do in terms of social and economic development as he expressed confidence in incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. He supported Lam’s election bid earlier this year as donor, nominator and senior adviser.

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Woo, 71, proposed the city should groom political talents and reform the appointments ­system to make it more attractive for civil servants or business elites to join as ministers.

He was defeated in 1996 in the election for the first post-colonial chief executive, and is currently a Standing Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top national advisory body.

Reflecting on the implementation of the “one country, two ­systems” formula since Hong Kong’s handover 20 years ago from British to Chinese rule, Woo said Beijing’s governing framework had succeeded in allowing the “democratic monitoring” of city authorities by ­opposition forces and the media, which had improved the government’s transparency.

“But part of such democratic monitoring had became negative, passive or even abusive ... and there are negative effects,” he said.

Woo also said that in the past two decades, there had been at least four types of “competitions for power” in the city, which targeted the civil service, Beijing, the business sector and the Legislative Council’s functional constituencies, respectively.

Referring to the ministerial system introduced by his former rival and ex-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2002, Woo said: “Pro-establishment forces saw the civil servants as too powerful, and created the accountability system to grab their power ... but eventually there were not many people from the camp who wanted to be a minister.”

I feel that Hong Kong people are the wisest in the world and would understand
Peter Woo, former Wharf chief

Lam’s incoming cabinet is dominated by promoted civil servants and reappointed ministers.

“There was also the struggle with the central government in the form of Occupy Central,” he said, referring to the Occupy ­pro-democracy protests in 2014, which brought parts of the city to a standstill for 79 days.

After all the conflicts and wranglings in recent years, the city “must realise that we cannot compete for power with Beijing”, Woo said.

“Everyone needs to understand what are their interests, and those of Hong Kong as a whole. It would be a pity for an organisation or a person to be ignorant about that ... I feel that Hong Kong people are the wisest in the world and would understand,” he said.

Since the mysterious disappearance in 2015 of five Causeway Bay booksellers and their reappearance in mainland custody, critics of Beijing have called for a stricter adherence to “one country, two systems”.

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But Woo dismissed suggestions the booksellers’ case showed the principle was at risk.

“Some 99.9 per cent of Hong Kong people do not do what the Causeway Bay booksellers were doing,” Woo said, referring to the sale of books featuring political gossip about Chinese leaders.

“Ask those 99.9 per cent of ­ordinary people, whether their everyday way of life was affected ... and oppressed.”