Ten ways to turn around Hong Kong’s governance and relations with Beijing
Andrew Leung says just asking lawmakers coming in on a ‘self-determination’ platform to cooperate with the administration is unlikely to help. What is needed is a paradigm shift in thinking to address concerns on both sides
Much has been said about how fractious and confrontational the newly elected Legislative Council is going to be. Young anti-establishment activists have pushed over the old guards. “Localists” with “self-determination” or “independence” leanings have taken centre stage. Simple pleas for closer cooperation with the government are unlikely to bear much fruit. If left to fester, the political ecology is bound to get worse. What is more, it has touched a raw nerve with Beijing. The prospects for good governance look depressing. The rest of the world is watching.
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People are unhappy with how Hong Kong is currently governed. They have lost confidence in the traditional pan-democrats’ ability to effect change. They want to take back Hong Kong’s future.
Clearly, if “one country, two systems” is to flourish, doing more of the same is not going to work. Nothing less than a paradigm shift in managing relations between Beijing and Hong Kong, and between Legco and the administration, is now in order.
A package of tentative ideas comes to mind.
First, Beijing still wants the Hong Kong model to succeed, even if its relative economic contribution to China has diminished. As happened during the first decade after the handover, Beijing is capable of bending over backwards in safeguarding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. But what it is unlikely to tolerate is allowing the Basic Law , the foundation of “one country, two systems”, to be watered down and, least of all, to see Hong Kong becoming a hotbed for separatism.
However, for Hong Kong to excel as a success story, coercive tactics are unlikely to help. People’s strong aspirations for greater democracy must be met. Beijing should therefore be persuaded to offer a much more liberal electoral reform package during the next administration.
For example, under the Basic Law, a nomination committee with four equal pillar sectors can be preserved but its composition should be widened and made much more representative. So long as each nomination secures over half of the committee’s support, there is no need to limit the number of nominated candidates. Provided a nominee secures over half of the votes cast by universal suffrage, by a process of successive elimination if necessary, the final winner securing the highest number of votes should become the chief executive, subject to Beijing’s substantive power of appointment.
Second, to allay Beijing’s fears, the proposition should be enacted as a bundle with appropriate legislation under Article 23 to proscribe any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion. This integral part of the Basic Law should obviate any need for extra-judicial measures to enforce national security. In case of exigencies, special anti-secession laws aimed at Hong Kong may also be passed in the National People’s Congress. This should form Beijing’s insurance policy.
Third, as part of the bundle, to allay youth anxiety, provided “one country, two systems” continues to be a success, by 2037, Beijing should undertake to renew the formula for say, another 30 or 50 years, subject to a decision by the NPC. For Beijing, this will take the wind out of the activists’ sails for “self-determination” post-2047.
Yes, any electoral reform package has to overcome the effective veto of the anti-establishment camp, which retains over a third of the Legco votes. But Beijing is unlikely to give up all legal safeguards against Hong Kong separatism. If a reasonable electoral reform package with quid pro quo for both sides is properly presented and fully explained, the vast majority of the people of Hong Kong, to whom political parties are ultimately beholden, are unlikely to prefer an endless, destructive and futile confrontation, which will only result in misery, if not perdition, for all concerned.
Fourth, far too many Legco members seem to think they are not part and parcel of Hong Kong’s governance. Their perceived mandate is often to obstruct the administration. They should be given an opening to show how they can do better. Thus, more politicians should be invited to join the administration. This should also help them in further political advancement.
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Fifth, much filibustering in the chamber is due to insufficient political consensus. Therefore, policy secretaries are to be held to account for full and thorough consultation with stakeholders including political parties, to ensure adequate support before bills are introduced.
Sixth, to meet their rising political aspirations, more young people, including politicians, should be appointed to advisory committees and later to the Executive Council.
Seventh, part of the reasons for anti-Beijing or anti-mainland sentiment among youths is inadequate appreciation of and interaction with China’s developments, including challenges and opportunities. Suitable openings including internships should be provided for them to play an active role in businesses as well as on development issues such as poverty-relief and environmental protection on the mainland.
Eighth, likewise, more opportunities should be created for Hong Kong youths to act as interns or observers in suitable “One Belt, One Road” projects, China’s premier global strategy for the coming decades.
Ninth, to promote mutual understanding between both sides of the border, more think tanks and debate forums should be established on problems, challenges, and opportunities facing Hong Kong and the mainland in a local, regional, national and global context.
Tenth, “self-determination” and “independence”, like all other controversial issues, cannot be brushed aside but should be thoroughly discussed and understood in schools and universities, covering China’s history, culture, socio-economics, politics, geopolitics, national development and Hong Kong’s constitutional status under the Basic Law, under the professional guidance of teachers or professors. This should help instil deeper understanding and awareness of the realities of Hong Kong’s citizenship and help to diffuse some of the cross-border tensions.
This 10-point plan is by no means comprehensive or exclusive. Nor is it meant to define the agenda. In order to break the widening impasse, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders on both sides of the border to stretch the art of the possible.
Andrew K. P. Leung is an independent China strategist. [email protected]