Dear Subscribers & Friends,
Where is Hong Kong three rallies later? What is the position of Chief Executive (CE) Tung Chee-hwa? Did Chinese officials meet the Democrats?
A. Hong Kong Article 23 and Democracy Rallies
1. Three for the road: On 1 July, 500,000 people protested against rushing the passage of the Article 23 national security legislation. On 9 July, 50,000 protestors sat outside the LegCo building to call for democratic reforms. On 13 July, 20,000 people rallied for universal suffrage.
2. HK's perception: There is a new sense of people power. Democracy leaders are urging permanent residents to register and vote (District Councils 2003 November and LegCo 2004 September). Pro-government parties are licking their wounds. Rally organizers are considering what to do in future.
3. International perception: The international community is watching how Beijing will deal with the national security legislation, the almost lame Tung Chee-hwa Administration, and Hong Kong's desire for a faster pace of democratic development.
4. Mainland perception: Reaction on the mainland ranges from support to disdain. Negative feedback points to Hong Kong being selfish - while demanding "candies" like CEPA [the new trade agreement] but not willing to pass national security laws.
5. Beijing's perception: Hong Kong presents a headache requiring top-level attention. An urgent review is being carried out.
B. The Question of Tung
1. Staying or going?: While the CE's personal credibility is rock bottom in Hong Kong, he has to continue until Beijing has assessed the situation and considered its options. Looks like the CE is staying for now. Beijing's longstanding instinct is not to allow itself to be pushed into doing something it is not ready for.
2. Beijing's priorities: In considering its options, Beijing will put "stability" first and foremost. Stability means both stability in Hong Kong and impact on the Mainland, including what national leaders see as their overall priorities. That is why it looks like the CE is staying for now.
3. Coping with Tung: With the CE staying, both Hong Kong and Beijing have to continue to "cope" with his shortcomings.
4. Changing ExCo: With the CE staying, the only way left to ameliorate bad feelings in Hong Kong appears to be to change his cabinet. The options appear to be:
(a) Addition: Keep the whole cabinet and add a few more people who have good public standing to help regain a measure of credibility for the Tung Administration.
(b) Subtraction and addition: Replace a small number of the worst offenders (with the Secretary for Security in first place) and add a few people of good public standing.
(c) Constrains: People of good standing may not wish to work under the CE's leadership.
C. Democrats - Who met whom?
(a) We saw someone: On 12 July, the Democratic Party's (DP) chairman, Yeung Sum, said some Mainland officials had requested meetings with some of his party members. Another member said he met two officials at "provincial level" after the 6 July.
(b) We definitely saw someone: On 13 July, the DP's vice-chairman, Albert Ho, said he met mainland officials after 1 July.
(c) You didn't see anyone ...: On 13 July, the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO) in Hong Kong said the meeting as reported "was groundless rumours".
(d) ... no one who matters anyway: The CGLO's statement can only mean that Ho met two provincial officials who neither informed Beijing that they planned to meet the DP nor had permission from Beijing to do so.
(a) Tung as a political risk: It was never easy to dislodge the CE. Keeping him in power, however, results in risks for both Hong Kong and Beijing as he has so far been the "instability" factor for Hong Kong and therefore for the Mainland although Beijing assesses "stability" differently. The CE has a habit of bumbling from crisis to crisis.
(b) Beijing's attention: For Beijing to spend more time on Hong Kong affairs there are positive/negative impacts. Positively, Beijing may get to understand the intricacies of Hong Kong life better. Negatively, it may feel it has to provide more direction.
(b) Stalemate?: Changing the composition of the cabinet as a compromise may be difficult if people of good standing are reticent to work under the CE, which could lead to a stalemate since there would then be essentially no change or very little change to how Hong Kong is going to be governed in the near future.
(c) Rebuff: While Beijing's willingness to connect with the DP will play well in Hong Kong and internationally, for now, Beijing has decided to continue with its policy of no contact with the DP. The two provincial officials who met Albert Ho could well be reprimanded.
In the next issue, we will discuss how the Article 23 legislation may proceed.
Civic Exchange, HK's independent think tank