Hong Kong must focus on finding a leader to heal the political rifts, not hugs and handshakes

Alice Wu says political reform is not the only problem for a restless and desperate Hong Kong, and chief executive candidates will need to have a road map for cooperation as well as Beijing’s trust

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 6:00pm

Judging by some messages I’ve been receiving and posts shared by friends on social media, Christmas came early for a lot of people. Some actually cracked open the champagne following Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s jaw-dropping announcement that he will not seek re-election. Leung arrived at his decision after weighing his responsibilities to the community against his responsibilities as a father and husband – it is an honourable one and, for that, we must let his family life stay private.

There really is no point, either, in arguing about whether his is now effectively a lame-duck administration. The expiration of a term of office, whether by choice or term restrictions or an election loss, is a reality. But, without the need to run an election campaign, Leung may even be able to accomplish more.

Let me say a proper ‘thank you’ to CY Leung if no one else will

In theory, it would be possible; though it would be naive to assume it would be easy, especially in the current political environment. In a way, this serves as a sobering reminder that however much some of us may think Leung is the big problem, that’s simply not true.

Ahead of the chief executive election, we’ve been on the lookout for the “symbolic handshake” that first made its way into our politics back in 1996, when then president Jiang Zemin ( 江澤民 ) singled out Tung Chee-hwa, who eventually became our first chief executive, at a Beijing gathering for a handshake.

Blame adversarial politics, not Leung Chun-ying, for Hong Kong’s polarised society

G20 handshake: did Xi Jinping just give John Tsang the nod to run for Hong Kong’s top job?

Tung’s successor was offered a firm shake by Jiang’s successor in 2005. Yet, for John Tsang Chun-wah, greeted with two presidential handshakes – in June last year at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank meeting in Beijing and, again, this September at the G20 Hangzhou meeting – the “blessing” is still up in the air.

The fuss over the bear hugs that Tung gave Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor early last week does point to how ridiculous this has become. Did Tsang get a hug as well when he visited Tung at home later in the week?

Perhaps it’s just an indication of how politically desperate, helpless and restless we are, which is also part of the problem. The formerly blessed one for 2012 – Henry Tang Ying-yen – recently warned candidates not to relaunch the political reform process. But that wouldn’t solve anything. It’s hard to imagine any government being able to proceed with just livelihood and economic issues, and sweeping political reform under the rug in today’s Hong Kong.

We need someone who has enough trust so Beijing can confidently be ‘hands off’

Declared candidate and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing has made relaunching political reform his priority, but we would be deluding ourselves to see Hong Kong’s problem as just a lack of reform.

It is a complex governance problem that includes the increasingly dysfunctional executive-legislative relationship, the Beijing-Hong Kong trust gap, and pent-up public frustrations.

Watch: Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing will run for CE

It’s not the same governance issue our first chief executive faced. It’s not an administrative challenge that the current one cannot handle. This governance problem is a political one, and that is the crux of Hong Kong’s ills. And it’s going to take someone who can mend political rifts, not worsen our adversarial politics, and who has the adequate trust of Beijing to not have to prove their loyalty during their tenure. Ideally, we need someone who has enough trust so that Beijing can confidently be “hands off”, and is electable.

Why Carrie Lam is Beijing’s real preference for chief executive

That is what we need to focus on. Instead of bear hugs and handshakes, we need to see chief executive aspirants’ road maps for political reconciliation. Because without that, no matter how strong our political institutions, how participatory our elections, we are still stuck. Without it, we can’t move forward on political reform.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA