Hong Kong's new chief executive Leung Chun-ying faces several formidable tasks in his next five years, trying to balance the divergent political demands of his masters in Beijing and his people in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
His first task is to design an electoral system that gives Hong Kongers universal suffrage – at least in name – while at the same time ensuring that those who do not enjoy Beijing’s blessings do not get elected.
In 2007, Beijing promised to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage in the chief executive election by 2017 and in the legislative council poll by 2020. This means the electoral system would have to be hammered out within the next five years. Article 45 of the Basic Law, the SAR’s mini-Constitution, says that “the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”.
Central to the new electoral system will be the role and composition of this nomination committee, which could easily be turned into a mechanism which bars people whom Beijing dislikes from entering the race. Indeed, there are already suggestions, from pro-Beijing newspapers, that the current 1,200-strong “election committee” that returned Leung to power be turned into the future nomination committee.
Should this happen, given that the mechanism for nominating members to the committee ensures that a large proportion is pro-Beijing, the central government would be able to decide who can stand for election. The so-called universal suffrage would then be a fake one, since the term ‘universal suffrage’ embodies not just the right to vote but also the right to be elected.
During his election campaign, Leung said that in the 2017 chief executive election, the threshold for qualifying candidates should not be set too low. This suggests he has at heart Beijing’s interest, not that of the local people.
His second tough job is the enactment of a security law mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law.
Most people are afraid that the law will curtail freedom in the SAR and have therefore put up stiff resistance to it. An attempt to enact the law in 2003 led to a 500,000-strong protest that forced the authorities to shelve it.
However, Beijing has insisted that before the SAR can have universal suffrage, it has to first enact the security law. This is to make sure that even if pro-democratic candidates won the chief executive election, there would be laws to rein them in. The SAR must enact the law now before it popularly elects its leader in 2017.
However, many Hong Kongers think the law should only be enacted after the government is returned by universal suffrage. Only then can they be assured that the legislative process would take their concerns into consideration.
Again, during his election campaign, Leung did not put Hong Kongers at ease with his insistence that it is the SAR’s constitutional obligation to enact the law.
Leung’s third task is to implement a compulsory national education programme at the primary and secondary school levels – starting with primary schools in September – to inculcate in students the spirit of nationalism and patriotism as defined by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Here, he has already suffered a setback.
On Saturday, Leung’s government bowed down to a week of impassioned demonstrations from the city’s inhabitants against compulsory Chinese nationalism classes. Residents interpreted these as the latest move in a strategy of pro-Beijing indoctrination
After the 2003 protests, Beijing launched a debate in 2004 in the SAR on patriotism, in which pro-Beijing scholars said it was not ready for universal suffrage because its people were not patriotic enough to deserve it. There were also concerns over electing candidates who were less than patriotic. “Only when universal suffrage would return [candidates] loving China and loving Hong Kong can we have it,” said an editorial in the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po then.
One way to enhance people’s love for China and Hong Kong is to indoctrinate the younger generation with CCP-defined “patriotism” and “nationalism”.
To this end, the SAR government is financing national education textbooks that paint a rosy picture of China.
In the first such textbook distributed to schools this month, “The China Model”, the CCP is described as “a progressive, unselfish and united ruling collective” which is close to the “ideal type of government as defined by social scientists”. In contrast, the politics in the United States has “created endless inter-party feuds that brings about havoc to the people”.
To many this is blatant brainwashing. Yet Hao Tiechuan, a senior official at the Central Government Liaison Office, Beijing’s arm in the SAR, said bluntly that brainwashing was necessary.
He added: “If national education didn’t promote the views of the central government, how could it be called ‘national education’?”
On this issue, Leung is again clearly on Beijing’s side. Soon after he got elected, he said in a Xinhua interview that 1997 was merely the legal return of Hong Kong to China. “From now on, we should work towards the real return which is the return of people’s hearts [to China].”
Since the political interests of the central government and the SAR are divergent, and since Leung is known to be consistently siding with the central government, one wonders how he is going to accomplish his mission without causing turmoil in Hong Kong.