Dear Subscribers & Friends,
 
How is the Hong Kong Chief Executive (CE) Tung Chee-hwa perceived in Beijing?
 
Beijing misses the point if it thinks Hong Kong's discontent is mainly due to economics. The real reason for 1 July had to do with people feeling that the CE is shaping Hong Kong in a way they don't support.
 
A. Hong Kong Sequel - Best Soap in Town
 
1. "Perfect Storm" Opening: Week before 1 July - The fine summer belies a simmering discontent that is about to flow over. The Secretary for Security (SoS) looks forward to a rest and hands in her resignation to the CE on 25 June thinking that there will be no problem passing the Article 23 national security legislation on 9 July. The government has the votes in LegCo to ram it through.
 
2. "We Love Wen": 29 -30 June - Premier Wen Jiaboa's visit to Hong Kong was designed to help prop up the CE's popularity. Wen comes bringing a gift - to sign CEPA [preferential trade agreement]. Wen's visit reflects poorly on the CE - it makes people see the CE's inadequacies as a political leader even more starkly but Wen is highly popular with Hong Kong people.
 
3. "Massive Protest": 1 July  2003 - Wen watches the protest on TV in Shenzhen. Everyone is shocked by the 500,000 protesters against the Article 23 legislation. Worse, they call for the CE to step down.
 
4. "Feeling the Heat": 1-4 July - Legislators supporting the Article 23 legislation feel uncomfortable. Leader of the Liberal Party, James Tien [member of the CE's cabinet] requests to go to Beijing. His party prefers the passage of the legislation to be delayed. Upon his return on 3 July, he gives the impression that there may be flexibility in Beijing's position on timing.
 
5. "Tung's Flip Flop": 5-7 July - The CE announces on 5 July concessions on the content of the legislation but not on timing. Tien resigns late evening 6 July. Tung announces early morning 7 July that he decided to delay passsage as he could not be assured of passing the legislation.
 
6. "Homework for Beijing": 6-13 July - Beijing switches its attention to understanding what happened in Hong Kong. Why is our intelligence so poor? Mainland officials from many units come to "find out" via all channels they have and report to Beijing. On 9 July, 50,000 people gathered at LegCo to ask for a faster pace of democratic reform. On 13 July, 15,000-20,000 people did the same.
 
7. "Double Happiness": 16-17 July - The ICAC [corruption investigation agency] hands in a report to the Secretary for Justice (SoJ) on the Financial Secretary (FS) over "Lexus-gate". Was there criminal culpability? The SoS resigns on 16 July followed by the FS two hours later. The CE announces an hour later that he will go to Beijing on 19 July.
 
8. "Good Show in Beijing": 19 July - Top Chinese leaders give the CE "face" in Beijing and declare their support for him.
 
B. Analysis
 
1. Hu and Wen: Together they represent the head of the CCP and the Chinese Government. The CE also met other top leaders. Beijing decided that it was necessary to show support to the CE because he is in deep trouble having lost all credibility in Hong Kong and overseas.
 
2. Out of Expectation: Beijing never anticipated it may need to replace the CE because of sheer incompetence. It also did not truly understand the depth and breadth of discontent in Hong Kong although it already got win over the years that people in the left, right and centre had gotten fed up with the CE.
 
3. Usual Reasons: It has been easier for Beijing to understand Hong Kong's problems through reasons other than the CE's own personality. Reasons such as (a) uncooperative civil servants; (b) a bad economy; (c) the democrats; (d) foreign governments meddling; (e) unsympathetic media; and (f) all of the above, appeared more persuasive than the possibility that Beijing had chosen the wrong person for the job.
 
4. Just not ready: Beijing is not ready to replace Tung:
 
(a) Impact on Mainland: Replacing Tung because of public pressure sets a bad precedent because it shows Beijing made a mistake in choosing him.
 
(b) No immediate replacement: Beijing thought it had time to sound out CE-candidates for 2007. It didn't anticipate that it would need someone else in mid-2003, only a year after Beijing had reconfirmed him for a 2nd term.
 
(c) Do what we know: Hence, Beijing is doing what it knows best, which is to show the strongest symbolic support when it knows the cookie is crumbling, while thinking about what it can do without outright controlling Hong Kong, which would destroy "one country, two systems".
 
(d) Things under consideration:
 
(i) What to do with Article 23? - The preference is still to pass something but unlikely Beijing has concluded how/when it must be done because it would require friends in LegCo [pro-government parties, and in particular the DAB] to sacrifice their electoral opportunities in the LegCo 2004 election.
 
(ii) Play economic card - The constant reference to CEPA and for the CE to work hard on improving the economy show the underlying belief that if the economy improves, everything else will improve.
 
(iii) Advice to CE - Beijing supports the CE casting his net wider to bring people into the cabinet and consultative committees to show that the CE has support from people of credibility in the community. The problem here is that the CE has such a poor reputation in how he works that people may be unwilling to work with him. Beijing may need to urge people directly: "Your country needs you".
 
(iv) Leopard changing spots?: The CE announced on 18 July before going to Beijing that he will consult more widely and learn from his mistakes. The question is whether he can really do so or whether he lacks fundamental capacity in this area. Currently, the option seems unavailable that the CE hands power over to someone else in the cabinet and leaves himself as the ceremonial head as the constitutional framework is not designed for this to happen.
 
The reason so much seems to hinge on the CE's personality is that Hong Kong people believe the CE has over the last 6 years been turning Hong Kong into something they don't recognize.
 
His decisions indicate a low level of professionalism, impulsive decision-making, favouristim, elitist arrogance based on wealth and not ability, poor use of talent, and policy conservatism.  
 
CHRISTINE LOH
Civic Exchange - HK's Independent think tank
www.civic-exchange.org