Hong Kong needs a Jedi Knight to lead us out of the darkness

Mike Rowse says rather than focus on individuals, we should be concentrating on the qualities of character needed by the next chief executive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 6:47pm

For a long time, I’ve been in two minds about our last governor, Chris Patten. On the one hand, at the personal level, he is very human, attending a school play along with other parents to support his youngest daughter Alice, and wiping away a tear at her moving performance. On the other hand, at the political level, I wonder if he didn’t put a bit too much emphasis on ending British rule with dignity, sometimes at the expense of Hong Kong’s long-term interests. He bulldozed through political reform, for example, to try to remedy decades of neglect, but at a speed which made Beijing nervous. The result was that some in our nation’s capital saw democracy as something of a Trojan horse, left behind at the last minute to preserve British influence, which led them to adopt an overly cautious approach to political reform.

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But, I must say in the last week he has served our community proud. His outright and forceful rejection of independence as a viable option for Hong Kong’s future in front of a student audience, many of whose members were swaying in the opposite direction, showed exactly the kind of courage which has been so conspicuous by its absence among the leaders of our pan-democratic camp. Focus on universal suffrage, he told them. That is the best safeguard for “two systems” and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. Beijing will never allow independence and the mere mention of it will make your true long-term goal even more elusive.

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Some pan-democrats have confessed they agreed with Patten’s analysis but were apparently too shy to come out and say so loudly, for fear of alienating our young people, and suffering short-term political pain. So it was left to an outsider to show that he still cared enough about us nearly 20 years after leaving office to correct the misguided among the student body.

All the kerfuffle of recent weeks has caused me to pause and think about the coming chief executive election. So far, I think we have paid too much attention to individuals. Who is in favour with Beijing, how long did someone shake someone’s hand, will he have the mandate to run, will the 60 representatives of agriculture on the Election Committee still support Leung Chun-ying, and so on. We need to focus more on major policy ideas and on the qualities of character the chief executive needs to possess.

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There are two major policy imperatives for the next chief executive. He (or she) must convince Beijing that Hong Kong is in safe hands and that he will never allow our city to be a base for subversion – “one country”. Equally important, he must restore Hong Kong people’s faith that the “two systems” approach will be respected and our core values preserved.

He will need to be brave. Did anyone in the administration have the courage to tell Beijing the political reform package of 2014 was woefully inadequate and was bound to be rejected? Did anyone in the opposition ranks have the courage to tell the localist youngsters – firmly and publicly – that they were barking up the wrong tree?

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He must eschew personal wealth and glory. He must persuade both the central government and local people that he is taking up the role as a public service. Not just say the words, he must convince people by his deeds and manner that this is genuinely the case. He must be conciliatory, reaching out with the hand of friendship to political opponents, not always seeking to hammer them with an iron fist. Look for opportunities to work together, listen more and talk less.

“No fear, no greed, no hate” – where have I heard that political mantra before? Why of course – Hong Kong Disneyland at the Jedi training centre. Cast members are teaching our youngsters to fight Darth Vader with their light sabres. If you fear him, you will fail. If you are greedy you will lose support. If you hate, your twisted psyche will not stay strong.

The solution is clear: we need a Jedi Knight to lead us, not a Lord (or Lady) of the Sith. Are any of our youngsters ready to take up the mantle, or do we need to bring an old hand out of retirement? While shaving the other morning I thought I caught a glimpse in the mirror of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I await my country’s call.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. [email protected]