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Published: 22:50, November 29, 2023 | Updated: 10:06, December 01, 2023
Deceptive myth of ‘political neutrality’ undermines city government
By Tu Haiming
Published:22:50, November 29, 2023 Updated:10:06, December 01, 2023 By Tu Haiming

When briefing the Legislative Council recently, Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan revealed that 535 government workers left their jobs after refusing to swear to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. As the HKSAR was established based on the Basic Law, any civil servant who refuses to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR government is naturally unqualified to serve in the government, and hence his or her resignation or termination is reasonable. 

“Political neutrality” has been cited for refusing to swear allegiance to the HKSAR government. But “political neutrality” does not conform to the reality in Hong Kong.

The principle of “political neutrality” as espoused in the West requires civil servants to be neutral to all political parties. As political parties take turns governing the country, civil servants are expected to faithfully serve the government led by the ruling party, and must not favor any political party, particularly the opposition parties. The principle of “political neutrality” ensures that the civil service will not become the vassal of a political party, lest the democratic institution be undermined. The principle of “political neutrality” fits well in Western political systems.

Hong Kong’s political system is distinct from the West’s: The Basic Law stipulates that the “Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be accountable to the Central People’s Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. Moreover, Hong Kong’s governance system doesn’t feature a ruling party and ruling-party rotation; there is no need for concern about favoritism or partiality. Therefore, “political neutrality” does not fit in with Hong Kong’s actualities.

Indeed, “political neutrality” was basically nonexistent in Hong Kong during British rule. The city’s military and political powers were vested in the governor; civil servants swore allegiance to the British Hong Kong government and the governor, with the latter two accountable to the British monarch.

Once the British realized the inevitability of Hong Kong’s return to China, the last governor, Chris Patten, vehemently pushed for “political reforms” under the banner of “returning power to the people”. Since then, the British Hong Kong government had enthusiastically peddled “political neutrality” among civil servants. In reality, the ploy of “returning power to the people” was intended to groom British proxies in Hong Kong’s political establishment in the hope that Britain could maintain influence in the city after 1997. It turns out that “political

neutrality” is being used as a shield to protect the Trojan horse in the HKSAR

political establishment.

‘Political neutrality’ distorted

To ensure a smooth transition after the 1997 reunification, successive HKSAR administrations have retained the old governance structure and civil service management system instated under British rule. As a result, the notion of “political neutrality” has not been reviewed and has been left in the Civil Service Code.

As the anti-extradition turmoil unfolded in June 2019, many government workers were found complicit in the subsequent “black-clad” insurrection, such as providing intelligence for the subversive forces, and disclosing personal information of front-line police officers and information on police deployment tactics. Some civil servants even openly shouted “Hong Kong independence!” and refused to take orders from the HKSAR government, while others questioned the law enforcement actions of the Hong Kong Police Force and demanded an “investigation into police actions”. Public schools were beset with rebellious teachers who openly harassed the children of police officers along with abetting violence and hatred against them.

What’s more, the so-called “political beliefs and moral standards” could be easily manipulated by people with ulterior motives, and government workers could be deceived to become tools of the subversive forces

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Hong Kong in early 2020, the time when medical services were in high demand, a number of medical employees at public hospitals decided to go on strike or abstain from work to demand the government shuts the border with the Chinese mainland. Their actions sparked a huge public outcry and were denounced as “a disgrace in Hong Kong’s medical history”.

What’s more, some government workers referred to some of their duties as “political tasks” and refused to discharge their responsibilities on the pretext of upholding “political neutrality”, including the promotion of public policies, rallying public support for the HKSAR government, promoting an understanding of the nation’s Constitution and the Basic Law to enhance awareness of the rule of law, and promoting national security education.

Their “justification” is nothing more than a warped interpretation of “political neutrality”, which suggests that civil servants can be disloyal and disobedient to the HKSAR government as long as they make decisions according to their own political beliefs and moral standards. Imagine the mess it would make if thousands of civil servants were to make decisions according to their own beliefs and standards, which are diverse. What’s more, the so-called “political beliefs and moral standards” could be easily manipulated by people with ulterior motives, and government workers could be deceived to become tools of the subversive forces. Disloyalty and disobedience are never tolerated in private businesses, let alone in the government discharging public functions.

An oath of allegiance is prescribed by the law, which includes the Constitution and the Basic Law, which jointly establish Hong Kong’s constitutional order. Article 99 of the Basic Law stipulates that “public servants serving in all government departments of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must be permanent residents of the Region. … Public servants must be dedicated to their duties and be responsible to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.

If a civil servant refuses to pledge allegiance to the HKSAR government and swear to uphold the Basic Law, it implies that he or she does not agree with what is written in the Basic Law in relation to discharging public functions. Such individuals are clearly not part of the governing body.

When Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, visited Hong Kong in April, he asserted that Hong Kong’s some 180,000 civil servants are the backbone of the HKSAR government; they should faithfully perform their duties, take concrete actions to ensure Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, as well as gain recognition from the people. The oath of allegiance is the first step to ensure civil servants will faithfully discharge their duties.

The author is vice-chairman of the Committee on Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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