C.Y. Leung must serve two masters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 2:40am

People believe what they want to believe. In the face of evidence to the contrary, they usually harden their stance.

So, among pan-democratic circles, it's an article of faith that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is a Beijing stooge, a man blind to public opinion and ever ready to ignore our needs and demands - at least if they clash with real or imagined priorities dictated by the central government.

Recent developments, such as the crackdown on parallel traders and the row over multiple-entry permits for non-permanent residents in Shenzhen, paint a rather different picture.

The problems with unruly traders crowding public transport in Sheung Shui have been brewing for some time. The breaking point came last weekend when neighbours and local travellers staged a rally and confronted the traders from Shenzhen. In response, the chief secretary vowed to resolve the issue and police promptly cracked down on the traders, leading to 131 arrests on Wednesday.

The traders have now changed routes, turning the crackdown into a cat-and-mouse game. It remains to be seen whether police actions and toughened cross-border controls will solve the problem. Meanwhile, Leung expressed shock and quickly turned to the central government to reverse the decision by Shenzhen authorities to allow non-permanent residents to obtain multiple-entry permits for Hong Kong.

These rapid policy responses stem from Leung's realisation that his administration bungled its handling of the row over national education. Whatever the protest leaders claim, the government has capitulated. As a result, Leung and his top lieutenants have sworn to avoid another massive debacle.

Paradoxically, as a government with no democratic mandate, he must respond quickly to public demands if he hopes to avoid the fate of a failed administration. As some form of direct election for the chief executive is expected in 2017, Leung will want to run again to vindicate his first tenure.

It's never easy serving two masters, but that is what he must do. In the past, Leung would have been another Beijing lapdog. But let me make a contrarian bet now: Over the next five years, he will become a pet creature of Hong Kong's, too.