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Published: 00:58, November 24, 2021 | Updated: 10:08, November 24, 2021
HKSAR's 'iron triangle' model of governance is taking shape
By Lau Siu-kai
Published:00:58, November 24, 2021 Updated:10:08, November 24, 2021 By Lau Siu-kai

Constitutionally, the political system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an “executive-led political system”. In devising such a system, Beijing drew inspiration from the “governor-centered” political system of colonial Hong Kong. Nevertheless, to make the post-1997 political system more democratic than its predecessor, the chief executive of the HKSAR was granted less power than the colonial governor. 

Most importantly, instead of the appointed legislature in colonial Hong Kong, the legislature of the HKSAR is elected and thus is independent of the chief executive. Nonetheless, the chief executive of the HKSAR still has enormous and broad policymaking, legislative and fiscal powers. Formally, at least, in addition to his/her position as the head of the government, the chief executive is also the head of the HKSAR and thus commands much more prestige and status than the legislature and the judiciary. Without any doubt, the political system of the HKSAR is an executive-led political system. By installing such a system in the HKSAR, Beijing envisioned that the HKSAR will be run by a powerful, effective and efficient government.

What transpired in the HKSAR after 1997 and until recently was a great disappointment to Beijing. The perennially weak, unpopular and diffident HKSAR government was not in a position of strength and the chief executive dared not to exercise his/her vast constitutional powers. The government didn’t have a stable and reliable majority support in the Legislative Council. The political opposition in the legislature and in society was dogged and unscrupulous in making life difficult for the government. Most importantly, to avoid being accused as interfering in Hong Kong affairs and infringing upon Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, Beijing, though anxious and perplexed, persisted in abstaining from getting involved in Hong Kong affairs and thus did not render strong and timely support to the embattled chief executive of the HKSAR.

In the last couple of years, we have palpably witnessed the emergence of a new model of governance in the HKSAR. ... This incipient model can be graphically described as an “iron triangle” model of governance. ... The three corners of this unequal “iron triangle” are Beijing (the central authorities), the HKSAR government and the patriotic camp. The powers and resources of Beijing, the HKSAR government and the patriotic camp will be pooled to form a formidable governing force

The turmoil battering Hong Kong in the past 10 years, particularly the “color revolution” in 2019-20, and the manifest conspiracy of internal and external hostile forces to wreak havoc in Hong Kong, capture the HKSAR regime, and turn Hong Kong into a base of subversion forced Beijing to take abrupt and draconian actions and measures to turn Hong Kong’s political situation around. By enacting the National Security Law for Hong Kong and fundamentally reforming Hong Kong’s electoral system, Beijing has succeeded in banishing the radical opposition forces from the Legislative Council, ensuring that Hong Kong will be administered only by patriots and forging political cooperation between the legislature and the government. Even more significant is that Beijing has given up its previous failed “hands-off” approach toward Hong Kong and begun actively to use the powers it enjoys under China’s Constitution and the Hong Kong Basic Law to suppress the internal and external hostile forces, bolster the authority and capability of the HKSAR government as well as to foster a more powerful and united patriotic camp.

In the last couple of years, we have palpably witnessed the emergence of a new model of governance in the HKSAR. Even though this new model is still evolving, its basic features are discernible. Its effectiveness in bringing about a strong executive-led system, as originally envisaged by Beijing, is great and undeniable. This incipient model can be graphically described as an “iron triangle” model of governance. In this new governance model, the three corners of this unequal “iron triangle” are Beijing (the central authorities), the HKSAR government and the patriotic camp. The powers and resources of Beijing, the HKSAR government and the patriotic camp will be pooled to form a formidable governing force. While there is a division of labor and functions among the three parties, the leading and coordinating role of Beijing is essential, indispensable and prominent. As the ultimate party responsible for safeguarding national sovereignty and security as well as the success or failure of “one country, two systems”, Beijing will perforce have to use the powers at its disposal to enact the necessary national laws and make the appropriate policies to reshape Hong Kong’s political system and political landscape. In promoting Hong Kong’s long-term political stability and effective governance, Beijing will lead, goad, direct, guide, persuade, support, reward or penalize the HKSAR government and the patriotic forces whenever necessary. Beijing will strenuously groom, enlarge and hold together the patriotic forces which are to date still not strong and united enough. The patriotic camp will be enjoined to support the HKSAR government while at the same time playing the constitutionally prescribed role of a constructive critic and overseer. Both the HKSAR government and the patriots are accountable to Beijing for their performance. Beijing will also mobilize, deploy and allocate resources from the Chinese mainland to support the work of the HKSAR government and the patriots. The cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, particularly Shenzhen, will contribute significantly to Hong Kong’s economic development, industrial diversification and improvement of people’s livelihood. The State enterprises as well as private mainland enterprises operating in Hong Kong will also support Beijing’s endeavors in Hong Kong as well as the development strategy of the HKSAR government.

In this new governance model, the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR, under the direction of the central government, will play a more active and visible role in Hong Kong affairs. It will pay close attention to Hong Kong affairs and the needs of Hong Kong residents, help the central government in devising policies and measures conducive to resolving Hong Kong’s difficult problems, work closely with the HKSAR government to assure the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”, as well as promote Hong Kong’s development in tandem with the mainland enterprises in Hong Kong. The central government will also use the resources at its disposal both in the mainland (through, for example, policies favorable to Hong Kong or the provision of land or facilities to Hong Kong in Qianhai) and in Hong Kong (through, for example, the activities of the mainland enterprises, central enterprises (yangqi) in particular) to help the HKSAR government overcome resistance by vested interests in implementing its policy agenda. The patriotic forces, which are allegiant to the central government, will control the Election Committee which will elect the chief executive of the HKSAR and largely shape the composition of the Legislative Council. Under the oversight of the Election Committee, cooperation between the executive and the legislature will be the norm, making it much easier for the HKSAR government to implement the long-term policy agenda through legislation and the allocation and reallocation of public resources.

Under the new model of governance, the HKSAR government has to work closely with Beijing particularly in comprehensively and accurately implementing “one country, two systems”, exercising strong, people-oriented and farsighted political leadership, aligning Hong Kong’s development strategy with that of the nation, safeguarding national security, promoting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong, resolving Hong Kong’s long-standing, deep-seated and dangerous economic and social problems and promoting national and patriotic education. 

As the Legislative Council and many social organizations are under the control of patriots, they will play a major role in forging smooth legislative-executive relations, building a broad social support base for Beijing and the HKSAR government, asserting ideological and political leadership in the community, providing support for national and patriotic education, fighting bravely and fiercely with external and internal hostile forces, helping Beijing and the HKSAR government in overcoming resistance to institutional and policy reforms and contributing actively to public well-being through public service, community involvement and charity work.

Since the issues of land and housing are considered by Beijing as a top-priority item in Hong Kong’s public agenda, the various ways it can tackle the issues of land and housing in the days ahead can provide possible examples illustrating how Beijing can help Hong Kong under the new model of governance. In helping Hong Kong tackle the shortage of land and housing, the central government, for example, can expand Hong Kong’s supply of land for industrial and residential uses by designating areas in the mainland nearby Hong Kong as special zones with intimate institutional and policy convergence with Hong Kong. Mainland real estate developers can serve as policy instruments to set examples of socially responsible enterprises. The central government can help promote urbanization in the northern New Territories (new towns, industrial parks, etc.) by deepening economic cooperation between Shenzhen (Qianhai in particular) and Hong Kong and by strengthening the northern New Territories’ transport and communication linkages with Qianhai and other areas in Shenzhen. The legislature controlled by patriots will heed the urging from the central government to pass the necessary legislation to increase the land and housing supply. The central government can use the carrot-and-stick approach to urge Hong Kong’s developers to cooperate with the government to increase the land and housing supply. The central government can help the HKSAR government to overcome resistance to government initiatives from vested interests such as the powerful original inhabitants of the New Territories as well as environmental protection and cultural conservancy groups.

Indisputably, compared with governance under the previous political system, where the HKSAR government struggled with tremendous and insurmountable difficulty in running the city, the new “iron triangle” governance model will be able to achieve effective governance and political stability in the HKSAR.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.  

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