Hong Kong, Beijing officials sometimes insist, is an ‘economic city’ not a ‘political city’. Although superficially nonsensical, it is, like the exhortation to ‘focus on the economy’, simply code for ‘everyone shut up about the crappy state of governance’. But of course people can’t and won’t, and in the absence of measures by Beijing to fix the problem, the city seems to get more and more political every day.
The South China Morning Post leads with pro-Beijing Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing decrying the post-handover uselessness of the Executive Council. In colonial times, the Governor’s little group of advisors mainly came from a handful of big (British) companies and monitored and prodded the top tier of civil servants who formulated policy. Popular expectations are far greater today, and political appointees are supposed to do policymaking; Exco membership has meanwhile simply become a pat on the head for every political party and interest group (a Liberal, a DAB, a Heung Yee Kuk, a moderate ex-pro-democrat) not openly opposed to the administration. Some members are shoe-shiners, others are – a new word is born – shoe-shinees. Its size, let alone composition, must prevent it from having any meaningful policymaking function.
Why is ‘Jasper’ Tsang, a leader of the Communist loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK, pointing this out? At a time when Exco is shedding members for assorted vaguely sleaze-like but mostly pitiful reasons, he should be doing his patriotic duty and pretending all is well. Could it be that his wife’s Canadian passport is emanating some sort of bad feng-shui that makes him blurt out the truth? Some more resolute members of the faithful are angry enough with him already for his willingness to accommodate radical lawmakers’ right to filibuster.
One of them, commentator Lau Nai-keung, blames the Legco presidency. (Though Lau doesn’t spell it out, the speaker of our little local parliament enjoys public approval for even-handedly implementing the ultra-British procedural philosophy in his Chinese – traditional characters – translation of Erskine May, and it has sort of gone to his head.) He then goes on to identify no fewer than three examples of evil anti-China forces apparently subsidizing new dissident media in Hong Kong.
The first is Harbour Times, aimed at the local political caste, as previously discussed. Lau picks up on the publication’s hope to attract political advertising, and concludes that it will thrive by carrying paid-for Western propaganda; this will be music to the enthusiastic but cash-strapped publishers’ ears, but I fear it may be too much to hope for.
The second and easily most interesting (though not really new) is WeiboScope, which monitors the Mainland’s version of Twitter. In other words, it displays to the world a vast amount of China’s dirty laundry, thus disproving the infallibility of Lau’s sacred Communist Party. To get an idea of how many billions the CIA, MI6 and KMT are feeding the Hong Kong University project, ‘deleted posts search is too load intensive so we disabled it’. (See also the related China Media Project.)
The third is the House News – yet another opposition/skeptic/pro-dem platform, with content drawn from allover. It leads today with Tsang Yok-sing’s Exco criticism, which would bring us nicely full-circle. Except there’s more.
The common thread running deep-down through this political overload is the aforementioned crap governance of the Big Lychee, which dates back to the 1840s if truth be told, but became curiously and stubbornly onerous with effect one midnight in mid-1997. The more visible and topical aspect of this problem is political reform, and the possibility of a more democratic system for electing Legco in 2016 and the Chief Executive in 2017. Ex-civil servant Mike Rowse is eager to see the reform debate begin. (For some reason, he buys the myth that reform of small-circle functional constituencies is subject to FCs’ veto. The truth is that the majority of FCs are puppets of Beijing – that is their post-1997 purpose. Their representatives will vote for whatever they are told.)
Frustratingly, no-one in the pro-Beijing camp will play along by making any reform proposals. The reason, as Rowse suggests, is that they haven’t yet been told what they are to propose, but when the party line comes through it will be something not very negotiable – not that it was ever likely to be anything else.
As with the Mainland economy, Beijing can’t leave the Hong Kong political structure as it is, but can’t meaningfully change it either. Tsang Yok-sing wouldn’t mind being CE and, with CY Leung’s government in self-destruct mode, must see an opening. In his mild-mannered, unassuming way, he will want to continue taking an interest in the popular mood about both constitutional affairs and himself. Meanwhile, Beijing’s local officials are clearly rattled by the Occupy Central movement, with its intellectual framework and semi-scientific planning process almost designed to creep out Mainlanders brought up on Leninist theory about pulling off revolutions. Thus Lau Nai-keung is seeing enemies crawling everywhere he looks. And with no-one to debate with, the pro-democrats will intensify their sensible-vs-radicals feud. Whatever else, it promises to be entertaining. The not-political city is going to get a lot less not-political before we go back to focusing on the economy.