Everyone is beating up Chief Executive Donald Tsang over his US$6,900 presidential suite in a Brasilia hotel – even Sir Bow-Tie is joining in, having now reported himself to the government auditor. His bag-carrier, Professor (it says here) Gabriel Leung, does a fine job evading the question of whether Donald actually used the suite’s vast and supposedly essential conference facilities, and suggesting that our CE needed the gold-plated toilets and other trimmings at the Royal Tulip Brasilia Alvorada because Latin American cities are so dirty, violent and generally icky.
Inevitably, we ask why what is essentially a super-mayor of a city of 7 million needs to travel overseas so much. With no defence or foreign policy responsibilities, Donald’s frequent and far-ranging tours abroad usually focus on trade promotion. But even these are arguably unnecessary. Hong Kong has no protectionist barriers or tariffs, its port is excellent, it has good legal and regulatory systems, and tax is low: what more trade promotion could you want?
Cynics say he just likes all the first-class, red-carpet luxury and mutual groveling that takes place during such jaunts. The more humane among us may wonder whether it is push, rather than pull, factors at work. Donald and his colleagues are so unpopular, so despised, by their citizens that they feel forced to flee into the embrace of speech-giving, agreement-signing Chileans, New Zealanders and the like, thousands of miles away.
Proof 1: Environment Secretary Edward Yau, the most unpopular senior official apart from Stephen Lam, John Tsang, [insert whole list], is currently in plucky little Denmark, apparently discussing co-operation on green tech with various blond people. As we speak, he is about to set off for the snow-swept, reindeer-infested wastes of Malmo, Sweden. (No word on his hotel arrangements.)
Proof 2: the aforementioned Financial Secretary John Tsang is currently on a tour of his own, which started in Vietnam. If it’s Wednesday, this must be Malaysia, where he is blathering away about the myth that is liberalization of the Renminbi with colleagues of people who take bribes from French submarine-makers. Right now, he’s off to Thailand. (Again, details of his accommodation are left to our imagination, though his assistants have apparently been trawling the Internet looking for suitable options.)
A columnist somewhere – probably the South China Morning Post – recently suggested that CE-elect CY Leung should start his term of office with multiple foreign trips to raise his and the city’s international profile. People overseas don’t know who he is, said the writer. The fact is that people here don’t know who he is either, and it’s probably best to work on them first. To this end, CY unveils his new CE-elect website, complete with a sunny photo of himself sporting a superbly PhotoShopped warm grin. No bow-tie-type sleaze here: every last orchid is declared.
His and Hong Kong’s international profile will depend not on exchanging gifts with Scandinavian trash recyclers but on what he does in the city itself. To get Hong Kong back on track, he has to make fundamental reforms. It means offering people and groups new incentives to behave, or not behave, in particular economic ways. It means abandoning a concept of government as guardian of wealth and space that must not be frittered away in the service of the burdensome population. It means offending vested interests on a scale not seen since Margaret Thatcher. The bureaucracy alone will have numerous opportunities to hinder, deflect and wear down his efforts. How great will be the temptation to hop on a jet and talk Islamic banking or Renminbi blah-blah with South Americans in – or out of – a luxury hotel suite?