Two weeks ago officials were stretching the truth and assuring us (or themselves, at least) that public support for a Hong Kong Asian Games bid was swelling continuously. Last Friday the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee rejected the government’s request for funding, and Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing expressed disappointment.
What TS Tsang actually thinks is hard to say. He is the token Communist in policymaking circles and carries out the duties of his relatively insignificant portfolio – mostly photo ops with cartoon-style mascots – with Stakhanovite diligence. Presumably he adheres to the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat, under which the workers suppress their class enemies as society moves from capitalism to utopia. But in this case, are the enemies the evil bosses who would line their pockets with the contracts to build pointless athletics facilities, or are they the decadent bourgeois who presumptuously demand that the people’s wealth be spent on their own self-indulgent desires rather than to the sporting glory of our little corner of New China?
A British-trained bureaucrat like chief executive Donald Tsang is easier to read. For him, public opinion is something to be despised. The city’s administration is neither by nor for the population. These former civil servants masquerading as political leaders take a perverse, almost macho-style pride in allocating resources to areas where the community will benefit least. Ramming through a proposal to blow HK$30/14/6 billion on the Asian Games while public hospitals have year-long waiting lists for basic medical procedures is a matter of honour for them. Ditto building a HK$69 billion hole in the ground to Shenzhen or piling up over a trillion bucks in reserves for no obvious reason.
It is not often that the Big Lychee’s visionary leaders have to bow to the wishes of the masses. The climbdown over Article 23 in 2003 was an extreme event. Another example would be the scrapping in 2004 of the Hei Ling Chau ‘super-prison’ plan, a bureaucrat’s dream project combining pointless infrastructure, environmental damage and redevelopment of prime real estate sites.
This time it is the legislature exercising its constitutional power over the purse strings that has rebuffed officials’ mad schemes. It’s not supposed to work like this: the rigged election system for the Legislative Council automatically produces a pro-government majority – that’s the theory. The resounding 40-14 vote against the Asian Games proposal was made possible by TS Tsang’s soulmates in the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK. These are the people who, along with certain business functional constituency representatives, obediently vote the way Beijing’s local emissaries tell them. After loyally supporting the Article 23 security bill in 2003, many DAB candidates lost their seats at subsequent elections when voters took revenge.
There was no phone call from the Central People’s Government’s Liaison Office about the Asian Games funding request. Beijing doesn’t care and is probably happy to see Sir Bow-Tie given a humiliating kick up the backside to keep him in line. But what about next time the government tries to push through an unpopular proposal? What if the budget in four months time doesn’t contain enough handouts? At a meeting with China’s new Hong Kong Affairs boss yesterday, pro-government lawmakers whined about being taken for granted and used as lobby fodder. There are elections next year, and the pro-Beijing politicians don’t see why they should risk their seats just so colonial running dog Donald scrapes through to the end of his term with at least some face intact. Who needs a wushu tournament?