Hong Kong shouldn't forget Lu Ping's words of wisdom

Gary Cheung says the late Lu Ping, one of the more liberal Beijing officials on Hong Kong affairs, was spot on about the flaws of our political system

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 3:10pm

Politicians across the political spectrum have lined up to heap praise on Lu Ping , the former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office who died this month. While most acknowledged his contribution in ensuring a smooth handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China, some of his insights into the city's post-handover development received little attention.

Lu was best known for branding the last British governor, Chris Patten, "a sinner for 1,000 years" in 1993, over an electoral reform package that Lu said breached the Basic Law and Sino-British agreements.

However, despite his attack on Patten, Lu was a relatively liberal-minded official. That same year, he assured Hong Kong its development was in its own hands.

"As for how the legislature will be constituted after its third term [2008], all that is needed is for two-thirds of legislators to approve, the chief executive to give his consent, and then report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee … for the record," he was quoted as saying on the front page of the overseas edition of the People's Daily on March 18. "There is no need for central government approval. How Hong Kong develops democracy in the future is entirely within the autonomy of Hong Kong."

This assurance was overridden by a higher authority in April 2004 when the Standing Committee ruled that changes to how the chief executive and legislators are selected were possible in and after 2007 if the chief executive believed "there is a need" to do so and the committee agreed. Any changes, if passed into law, must also obtain the "final approval" of the Standing Committee in the case of electing the chief executive, or "registration for the record" in the case of electing the legislature.

When Lu made his promise in 1993, Beijing was confident it could win over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people within a decade after the handover. Hence it was ready to give its people a relatively free hand in developing a democratic system. But in the wake of the 500,000-strong July 1 march in Hong Kong against national security legislation, the central government tightened its grip on the city's constitutional development.

Lu was silent on Beijing's new position, but he was frank on the flaws of Hong Kong's political system.

In an interview with me in 2009, he admitted candidly that Basic Law drafters had played down the importance of party politics in the 1980s and he recognised that the Hong Kong government faced huge difficulties in securing stable support from the legislature. He attributed the problem to the lack of a party that enjoys a majority in the Legislative Council.

While noting that Hong Kong was in danger of being marginalised by the rapid development of the mainland, Lu also noted that 12 years after the handover, many Hong Kong people still had negative feelings about the mainland. "There are still some areas in our country where there is room for improvement. With it developing rapidly, I am sure Hong Kong people will show more confidence in the country," he said.

Such words of wisdom are invaluable food for thought about the city's future.

Gary Cheung is the Post's political editor