The role and composition of Hong Kong's delegation to the nation's top advisory body are unlikely to attract close public scrutiny. Except for the ongoing annual session in Beijing, the work of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) usually does not receive much attention during the year. That said, the conference remains the official forum in which key state policies are proposed, formulated and reviewed. The choice of the delegates, as well as the advice given to the authorities, is a matter of public concern.
Eyebrows were raised when a senior mainland official signalled the need for a change to broaden the scope of appointments. Speaking to the local delegates early in the week, Chen Mingyi, deputy director of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of the CPPCC, said there was a high proportion of members from the business community due to historical reasons. He said it was necessary to recruit more intellectuals and professionals to the body as the city moves towards universal suffrage in 2017, adding that the changes should take effect when the conference begins a new five-year term next year. It is good to hear that the need to reach out to a wider spectrum of people has been recognised by the mainland authorities. The step is long overdue and is a welcome one.
It remains unclear whether Chen's remarks signal a shift in Beijing's policy on Hong Kong. If this is to be the case, it will be a change in the right direction. Historically, the local delegates have mainly been tycoons with business interests here and on the mainland. That approach is understandable. China wanted to recruit those who made substantial contributions to the economy during the early stages of the country opening up.
The appointees are no doubt the pillars of Hong Kong's economy. But, powerful as they are, they only represent a very narrow spectrum of views in society. Whether they can feel the public pulse and reflect it accurately to the authorities is not clear. But they are privy to the thinking of our policymakers at provincial and national level. And, arguably, they are in a privileged position to influence their decisions, sometimes to their own advantage rather than for the public good. That perception has been further reinforced as the widening wealth gap has fuelled more political and social tensions in recent years.
Hong Kong will mark its 15th year under Chinese rule in July. The city needs a more popular-based governance, especially when universal suffrage is introduced five years from now. The city moved away from elitism in the run-up to the handover. It is time to revamp the appointment of political advisers and reach out to a broader spectrum in society.