Hot air, political under-currents hit HK


Covid-19 pandemic aside, Hong Kong was battered by scorching heat in July. In the first month of the John Lee Ka-chiu administration, hot air and political under-currents have also hit the city’s socio-political landscape.

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive, has boiled down governance to three “Ps”, namely politics, policies and public relations (PR). The past month of Hong Kong under the Lee team saw few quick fixes and big changes in policies. Politics and PR are aplenty. Of them, most are substandard, or put it bluntly, poor.

That has not come as a surprise. Although Lee has vowed to lead a “can-do” government with results overriding everything, he understands there are no early solutions to the litany of deep-seated economic woes and livelihood problems that have remained unresolved for many years.

But now that the almost-dismembered democratic force could no longer be the convenient scapegoat for governance failures, Lee and his team feel the pressure of delivering results to help prove critics of Beijing’s new approach to “one country, two systems” policy wrong.

With policies taking time to be formulated before they are implemented and, hopefully, bring about results, the Lee team has geared up efforts on the political and PR fronts in their first 31 days.

On the political front, one of the major initiatives is to forge closer ties with the Legislative Council featuring a monthly “ante-chamber conversation” between the governing team and the lawmakers. Lee took the lead to conduct the first informal chat in July.

In a related political exercise, more members from major pro-establishment political parties joined the Lee team as deputy secretaries and political assistants. A fleet of 17 new appointees reported duty on July 18.

Under the Basic Law, the executive authorities and the legislature are separate with different powers and functions. The executive branch shall be accountable to the legislature. In a sense, Legco is supposed to act as a watchdog, barking and biting.

There are growing signs that Legco will be a different breed of dog. You name it. The new catchwords in executive-legislative relations in the new era will be collaborations and cooperation, no longer be checks and balances.

While seeking to co-opt the legislature into a ruling coalition, the Lee team has acted to try to break the bureaucratic barriers in the government machinery to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in governance.

Four working groups headed by the deputies to the financial secretary and chief secretaries have been formed to spearhead tasks including the search of land for public housing, speeding up construction of flats and a cleaner Hong Kong.

The working groups are given a deadline of end-of-September to come up with action plans for Lee to pen his maiden policy address scheduled for mid-October.

It is too early to make a judgment on the effectiveness of the tasks of internal team-building and coalition-forming with Legco at this stage. After all, much depends on whether the political initiatives result in better ways in handling such issues as anti-Covid and housing. Only time can tell.

If anything, Lee and his team are keen to impress the dispirited community they are reaching out to fellow citizens while standing united trying to put an end to chaos, improve governance, bring back stability and prosperity.

In a curtain-raiser to a much bigger blitz of publicity, the Lee team, all in casual wear, was featured in a video as part of the public consultation on the October policy address. Separately, Lee and ministers have been more visible on their own social media platforms.

Whether those PR and political initiatives help shorten the divide between them and fellow citizens is not without doubt.

This is simply because a large segment of the populace who aspire for democracy and freedoms feels being ignored in the patriots-only game. The Lee team has made no attempts, not even gestural moves, to reach out to them since they took office.

Worse, there have been worrying under-currents of incessant political crackdown against dissenting voices at all corners of the society.

The Democratic Party and the League of Social Democrats, which are still alive but unwell, are the targets of fresh attacks by the pro-Beijing media against their allegedly anti-communist stance in the past few weeks.

The police’s national security team has been urged to probe into the deeds and acts of the LSD on whether they have breached the national security law.

Meanwhile, an unholy coalition of patriots is mounting a campaign to kick out Professor Rocky Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Tuan was alleged of having made a serious political mistake in condoning student protesters during the 2019 unrest. His contract was renewed in April.

Those enduring political struggles will only breed protracted divisiveness shooting the feet of the Lee team. They will only have them to blame if they turn a blind eye to the unhelpful acts of the trouble-makers.

▌[At Large]About the Author

Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.