Published: 00:44, June 7, 2022 | Updated: 09:59, June 7, 2022
Effective public governance should come first in HK
By Ho Lok-sang

The chief executive-designate, Mr John Lee Ka-chiu, was, in the eyes of many, Beijing’s most favored candidate to take up the important post in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He was the only candidate in the election. A friend remarked in a note to me: This does not look good. 

For Beijing, however, window dressing to look good is not something it would put emphasis on. Beijing is concerned only about effective public governance, which means preventing power abuses and effectively serving the interests of the people, which should be the raison d’etre of every government. A government that fails this fundamental task can never claim to achieve good public governance.

President Xi met with Mr Lee on May 30, and congratulated his successful election to the post, stressing that the central government has full trust in him, given his long record of devotion and strong sense of responsibility in every job that he had held in his public service. He signaled that the new political system will likely continue in the foreseeable future. The new election rules have proved to open a new chapter of development for Hong Kong, so that patriots and those with a heart to serve Hong Kong can work together to govern Hong Kong. President Xi emphasizes that Hong Kong residents from now on have become masters in their home city. A bright future for Hong Kong beckons. The new political system fits the practical demands of Hong Kong and should be treasured as the democratic system that should prevail over the long haul.

What President Xi said could have disappointed some people, as it appears to suggest that universal suffrage for election of the chief executive and all legislators may have to wait quite a while.

In President Xi’s judgment, the previous political system was open to manipulation by foreign interests, so that foreign interests could ultimately infiltrate Hong Kong’s legislature and potentially might even usurp the chief executive post. The new system, coupled with the National Security Law for Hong Kong, has brought back peace and order, and makes sure that only patriots can take up key public office posts in the special administrative region. The new political system, though a far cry from the open universal suffrage that many people want, President Xi reckons, is exactly what Hong Kong needs at this historical moment.

The political system will still evolve, and over the longer term, what was promised in the Basic Law will see its day, but the spirit of the new political system will stay

I came across an article by Mr Lo Man-tuen recently. He is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He says that President Xi’s remarks do not mean the promise laid out in the Basic Law regarding the eventual election of the chief executive by popular vote will be dashed. It just means that progression toward that end will be slower than expected, and that the spirit of the new political system will continue to prevail regardless of any change. Article 45 of the Basic Law reads: “The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. 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.” The “actual situation”, given the political and social havoc that we have seen from 2014 to 2019, happened only because the law had been too permissive, and the loopholes in the existing political order attracted political dreamers like Benny Tai Yiu-ting to take advantage. Too bad too many people are too simple-minded and thought that democracy is nothing but the ballot box. Many failed to understand that the essence of good public governance is prevention of power abuse and serving people effectively. Many thought it was more important to get what they wanted than improving the livelihood of their compatriots. Some even opted to serve their masters in the United States against the interests of the motherland. The “actual situation” forced Beijing’s hand to restore peace and order, so that Hong Kong people serving Hong Kong becomes possible, instead of agents of foreign interests serving the interests of foreign masters. Now that the loopholes are closed, President Xi reminded us that we need to treasure the new political system that has brought peace and order back to Hong Kong. The political system will still evolve, and over the longer term, what was promised in the Basic Law will see its day, but the spirit of the new political system will stay.

Multiple surveys had shown that Hong Kong people support the “one country, two systems” (OCTS) framework. President Xi assured us of Beijing’s determination to follow through with OCTS and that this will not change. Too bad many people had been misled into thinking that periodic elections without restrictions are a basic human right and are the key to good public governance. Many are leaving for countries they thought offer better public governance. But the United States has periodic presidential elections, and still has failed miserably in stopping the rise in gun violence. The world will, I am sure, learn that China is the true bearer of peace and good public governance.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.