What Qian Qichen and Deng Xiaoping could teach today’s Chinese leaders
Alice Wu says Zhang Dejiang’s veiled scolding of Hong Kong while in Macau was unseemly. In a week that also saw the death of China’s diplomat par excellence, Qian Qichen, the contrast could not be more stark
Former Chinese vice-premier and foreign minister, the late Qian Qichen (錢其琛), will be remembered for accomplishing the toughest of tasks – he had to handle normalising Beijing’s relations with the West after 1989, as well as Hong Kong and Macau’s return to China. Qian was respected at home and abroad, and will be remembered for his intelligence, charm and having the “right touch”, an intuitive skill that’s increasingly rare nowadays.
Handling the Hong Kong and Macau handovers could not have been a walk in the park. Unfortunately, looking at the state of “one country, two systems” now, I can’t say that all that hard work had been worthwhile.
Just two weeks ago, the legal chief of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, Wang Zhenmin (王振民), threatened to scrap it. The “great experiment”, as Wang called it, has been running for barely 20 years. We’re not even halfway to Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) promised “50 years”.
In any case, tantrums don’t command respect, and Wang’s, “If the model fails, the country will only lose face, but Hong Kong will lose everything” sounds like a tantrum to me. It was petty.
That kind of pettiness was on display in Macau last week. Zhang Dejiang’s (張德江) visit to Macau did not quite live up to the hype. It’s hard not to feel insulted for our “brother” Macau. Officials rolled out the red carpet just so their city could be relegated to being a launchpad of veiled attacks on Hong Kong’s “independence” movement.
Last May, when Zhang visited Hong Kong, he surprised many by talking about the minority movement, which ended up boosting advocates’ morale more than anything.
In Macau, Zhang praised the SAR for being different from Hong Kong, but the people of Macau and Hong Kong have long known that – we are different in more ways than we are similar.
The two special administrative regions do enjoy a special relationship. Both former colonies, but of different colonial masters, the Cantonese we speak and the “one country” we belong to are pretty much the extent of our similarities. And for a long time, we have celebrated our differences. That’s the main reason why we enjoy each other’s company so much.
We’ve grown used to the “parental” way Beijing exerts its authority over us. And looking at how our “parent” behaved last week in Macau, it begs the question: is parental encouragement of sibling rivalry ever wise? The irony is not lost on us, particularly when Zhang – in one of his veiled criticisms of Hong Kong – extolled educators’ influence because students did not always listen to their parents.
Right. Parenting is a tough job.
Deng and Qian are statesmen of stature. We can only hope that our current leaders learn from these giants, like good pupils would.
Deng, the architect of “one country, two systems”, said in 1984 that “[w]e should have faith in the Chinese of Hong Kong, who are quite capable of administering their own affairs. The notion that Chinese cannot manage Hong Kong affairs satisfactorily is a leftover from the old colonial mentality.”
Qian, for his part, said in January 2002, when he was vice-premier and facing some very challenging times for cross-strait relations: “We believe there is a difference between the majority of Democratic Progressive Party members and the extremely small number of diehard ‘Taiwan Independence’ elements.”
Remarkable words do come out of remarkable leaders. Tantrums don’t make the cut for exemplary statesmanship.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA