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Published: 02:08, April 11, 2022 | Updated: 13:36, April 11, 2022
Lee meets Beijing's criteria for HK's next CE
By Lau Siu-kai
Published:02:08, April 11, 2022 Updated:13:36, April 11, 2022 By Lau Siu-kai

From Beijing’s perspective, the next five years are crucial for the successful implementation of “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. This is because Hong Kong is bound to confront a plethora of grim challenges coming from inside and outside which would pose severe tests for both Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government in their roles as the guardians of the interests and well-being of the city, as well as the motherland.

Beijing expects intensified efforts by the United States and its allies to contain China and weaken Hong Kong’s value to the rise of China. Hong Kong will continue to face destabilizing actions and sanctions from the West in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Inflation, economic recession, financial crises, trade protectionism and pandemics are also looming threats coming from an increasingly turbulent and unpeaceful world and the crumbling US-dominated international order. At the same time, Hong Kong will have to tie itself more broadly and intensively with both the motherland and the emerging and increasingly integrated Eurasian region to obtain new opportunities for socioeconomic development.

Internally, the 2019-20 insurrection and COVID-19 pandemic have left Hong Kong severely battered politically, economically and socially. The long-standing, deep-seated social and livelihood problems have become more intractable, threatening to undermine Hong Kong’s fragile stability, render governance ineffective, and bring about political and social disorder and instability. Given the inevitable worldwide economic downturn, it is expected that Hong Kong in the years ahead will be burdened with lower economic growth, higher unemployment and deteriorating livelihood, all of which will in turn test the ability of the HKSAR government to maintain effective governance and social peace. To cope with the challenges ahead, Hong Kong needs to enhance its governance capability and administrative effectiveness by undertaking the needed but difficult institutional and policy reforms, many of which have been obstructed and derailed by various forces in the past.

Lee (Ka-chiu) is seen by Beijing to be able to work in tandem with it, faithfully implement the directives of the central government, promote solidarity of the patriotic camp and shoulder the arduous tasks of institutional and policy reforms in areas such as the civil service, land and housing, the tax system, fiscal policy and social welfare. Lee will also be charged with the challenging responsibilities of fully integrating Hong Kong’s economy with the mainland economy

It is against this uncertain and turbulent environment that Hong Kong will face in the years ahead that Beijing has come up with several major criteria to guide its selection of the new Chief Executive of the HKSAR. As far as I can ascertain, four criteria are particularly critical. In the first place, the new CE must be loyal to the motherland and Beijing and be able to act in concert with the central government on important issues. The new CE is expected to be able to faithfully and fully implement the directives issued by the central government in accordance with the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Secondly, as the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is pivotal to the success of “one country, two systems”, the new CE must be able to unite, strengthen and empower the patriots so that the patriotic camp can function as a cohesive combative army in support of the HKSAR government and against the offensives of the internal and external hostile forces.

Thirdly, the new CE should be familiar with the workings of the HKSAR government. A person who has been a senior government official will, therefore, have a head start in the competition for the top job. There is no need for the new CE to be well-versed in all the major policies, but the person should have a basic understanding of the way the administrative machine operates, the most significant policy issues that should be prioritized by the new administration, the deficiencies of current policies and the shortcomings of the administrative machinery. Fourthly, the new CE must be decisive, determined, disciplined, bold, innovative and resilient, have the stamina to get things done under difficult conditions, and have a high sense of responsibility and commitment to the motherland and Hong Kong.

After closely scrutinizing the qualities of several potential candidates and extensive consultations, Beijing has finally decided that John Lee Ka-chiu, a man with a police background who was rapidly promoted to be chief secretary for administration of the HKSAR after taking up a political career not too long ago, meets these criteria overall better than other contenders. Lee is expected to be voted into the office of the chief executive of the HKSAR by an overwhelming majority of the Election Committee members.

In the eyes of Beijing, the preponderant advantage of Lee is not just his superb performance as a politically-appointed official. That has been displayed during the suppression of the 2019-20 insurrection. More important is the fact that Lee is not affiliated with any political faction, tycoon, large corporation or vested interest in Hong Kong, and bears no responsibility for the making of most current policies. All along, the patriotic camp has been plagued by divisions among factions, interests and individuals. Open and behind-the-scenes conflicts within the patriotic camp abound. At the same time, many public policies in Hong Kong have become outmoded given the grave challenges ahead. Being unencumbered by any sectional interests in Hong Kong or existing policies, Lee is well poised to be completely loyal to Beijing and unhampered in the pursuit of institutional and policy changes.

Of equal importance is the fact that Lee does not come from the Administrative Officers Grade. Members of this exclusive elite corps used to “monopolize” the top positions in the government. However, in Beijing’s judgment, this elite corps is too elitist, conservative, cautious and timid. Moreover, as experience shows, its allegiance to the motherland and Beijing is not steadfast enough. Consequently, Lee is seen by Beijing to be able to work in tandem with it, faithfully implement the directives of the central government, promote solidarity of the patriotic camp and shoulder the arduous tasks of institutional and policy reforms in areas such as the civil service, land and housing, the tax system, fiscal policy and social welfare. Lee will also be charged with the challenging responsibilities of fully integrating Hong Kong’s economy with the mainland economy. Needless to say, it is imperative that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has tormented Hong Kong for more than two years, be put under effective control as soon as possible.

Because Lee is not a veteran politician and has limited exposure to policy areas beyond police and security, he needs to form a leadership team with diverse talents, especially in the areas of finance, economic development, education and social welfare. Given the economic and political turbulence around the world in the years to come, and the stepped-up efforts of the US and its allies to contain China’s rise and hurt Hong Kong, it is anticipated that Hong Kong will have to cope with many challenges coming from inside and outside Hong Kong. A strong and multi-talented leadership team with national and international perspectives is desperately needed. Only with such a leadership team in place can Hong Kong not only be able to safeguard national security, but also promote Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. In the formation of this leadership team, Beijing will play an indispensable and critical role. Beijing’s prodding and encouragement are necessary to persuade elites who are lukewarm about taking part in politics and governance to join the government at this critical moment of “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong’s future.

In governing Hong Kong in the years ahead, Lee and his administration will receive full and timely support from Beijing. Beijing will provide the necessary assistance to Hong Kong to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic, revitalize the Hong Kong economy, facilitate the city’s efforts to explore developmental opportunities in Eurasia and tackle the deep-seated and long-standing social and livelihood issues. The staunch support of Beijing is essential for Lee’s administration to overcome the resistance and obstruction of the vested interests and political rivals inside and outside the government in its pursuit of the institutional and policy reforms which are desperately needed for Hong Kong’s good governance, well-being, development and stability.

The next five years are crucial not only for Hong Kong but also for the motherland. If national security is effectively safeguarded, “patriots administering Hong Kong” is fully realized, Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability are assured, and “one country, two systems” is implemented comprehensively and accurately, “one country, two systems” will continue beyond 2047. In the next five years, Beijing will closely monitor developments in Hong Kong, protect and advance Hong Kong’s interests and provide the necessary advice, proposals, admonitions and directives to the HKSAR government. It is expected that Lee and his leadership will take into serious consideration the views, suggestions and decisions of Beijing. It is also expected that the new administration of Hong Kong will prioritize the safeguarding of national security and interests in charting Hong Kong’s future development and the making of local policies.

As I mentioned before in a previous article in China Daily Hong Kong Edition, the governance model of Hong Kong will increasingly be an “iron triangle” model where Beijing will play a leadership role and work together with the HKSAR government and the patriotic camp in the governance of Hong Kong. The constitutional powers of Beijing, the powers of the HKSAR government under “one country, two systems” and the political influence of the patriotic camp will be organically combined to form an unprecedentedly powerful governing bloc to take on its many challenges. Under the circumstances of external hostile forces not being allowed to operate openly, internal opposition forces being contained, a cooperative executive-legislative relationship, the strengthening of the patriotic camp, a government led by patriots which is much more determined to protect national security and reliant on the patriots in the community, and the emergence of public consensus on the need for prioritizing security, economic, social and livelihoods issues, we can optimistically expect that Hong Kong will have more powerful and effective governance, sustained economic growth, a more diversified industrial base, a more stable and just society, and better relationship between Hong Kong, the mainland and the central government.

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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