Hong Kong Democrats must engage Leung Chun-ying in the political game of cultivating clout

Gary Cheung says the chief executive is apparently courting the more moderate pan-democrats, judging by his comments on a recent meeting

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 3:50pm

On July 16, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying blogged his meeting with six lawmakers from the Democratic Party two days earlier, but it has gone largely unnoticed.

The 400-word article stands out as Leung's only piece on a meeting with a political party, among the 215 articles he had written in his blog since April 2012. Leung described his meeting with the Democrats as "constructive" and the atmosphere as "frank and pragmatic".

The Democrats floated 11 suggestions on topics ranging from the discovery of tainted water in Kowloon City to alleged bid rigging in renovation works. From Leung's account, it was clear the Democrats' call for restarting the electoral reform process as soon as possible did not spoil the atmosphere of the meeting.

It appears the chief executive, who never hesitates to cross swords with pan-democrats, now considers the Democrats brothers in arms

"The meeting … lasted 20 minutes longer than its scheduled duration of half an hour. At the end of the meeting, I expressed my hope to meet with members of the Democratic Party again to listen to their views before drafting my next policy address," he wrote. Leung even told the Democrats to contact him "any time".

It appears the chief executive, who never hesitates to cross swords with pan-democrats, now considers the Democrats brothers in arms.

A day after the ill-fated electoral reform package was voted down in the Legislative Council last month, Leung vowed to forge a "new relationship" with lawmakers and arranged meetings with various political groups. Yet the meeting with the Democrats, if you believe the chief executive, stood in stark contrast to one with another major pan-democratic group. On July 2, he met the Civic Party, but lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching dismissed the 30-minute meeting as "meaningless".

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who was at Leung's meeting with the Democrats, was absent from the Civic Party discussion.

It is natural for Beijing and the Hong Kong government to adopt the divide-and-conquer strategy towards the pan-democrats. When he met lawmakers in Shenzhen on May 31, Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said he hoped to have more opportunities to communicate with most of pan-democrats who support the "one country, two systems" philosophy, whom he described as friends. But Wang attacked what he called a handful of pan-democrats who used the term "democracy" to conceal their vision of Hong Kong as an independent political entity.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government once pinned hope on the Democrats, who did not insist on allowing the public to nominate a candidate for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage. Despite Beijing officials' tough talk before the vote on the reform plan, they are pragmatic enough to recognise the need to engage the Democrats, who are moderates among the pan-democratic faction.

While the Democratic Party's political muscle now does not compare with its heyday in the mid-1990s, when it had 19 of 60 seats in the Legislative Council, it is still a force that the government can't afford to write off. It has 44 district councillors, the most among all pan-democratic groups. Since early this month, the party has led the race in exposing lead contamination in tap water in public housing estates since Helena Wong Pik-wan, one of its lawmakers, identified the issue in Kai Ching Estate.

Politics is a game of strength and clout. If the Democrats had not scored points in the "Hong Kong water-gate", would the chief executive - characterised as a wolf for his perceived cunning - spend time writing that blog entry? While Leung's warm words may be a "kiss of death", the Democrats would do well to master the skill of dancing with the wolf.

Gary Cheung is the Post's political editor