Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I first met Frank Ching back in the mid seventies, when he was one of those who "knows about China" to whom new diplomats were directed.  He was solid then, solid, reliable and insightful ever since.  Below he comments on the tendency of this Chief Exec, Donald Tsang, to preemptively give away our autonomy.  One hopes that the "inputs" from these China-appointees to the policies of Hong Kong will be positive and based on some understanding of what makes this place tick: independent judiciary, rule of law, clean and transparent government, minimal government, low tax.
(my apologies to Frank for copying the whole of his article, a practice I've recently found out is called "scraping", as opposed to selective quoting.  I have no choice since the South China Morning Post on-line is only available to subscription.)
So, scraping away -- here the top of the barrel...

The gap between 'two systems' grows narrower

A little over a year ago, many people were up in arms about a report that the Hong Kong administration and the central government's liaison office here had reached an agreement to give local members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference a greater role in Hong Kong.Wen Wei Po, a local communist newspaper, reported that there was a 10-point agreement on the functions and role of Hong Kong members of the CPPCC, China's top advisory body. This report was vigorously denied by both the Hong Kong government and the liaison office.

However, lo and behold, when Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen began his consultations this month on what to say in his next policy address, whom did he consult first? Why, Hong Kong members of the CPPCC and Hong Kong deputies of the National People's Congress, of course.
The CPPCC members are appointed by the central government, ostensibly to advise it on the running of state affairs. NPC deputies are elected, in a fashion, but their job, too, is to help run China and not Hong Kong. In March 1998, during the first post-handover meetings of the NPC and CPPCC, then president Jiang Zemin said: "Local deputies would only represent Hong Kong compatriots to participate in the running of state affairs on the mainland."
Well, times have changed. It seems clear that the Hong Kong administration has agreed to give members of the CPPCC and NPC deputies a status they did not previously enjoy.
It appears Beijing initially believed "one country, two systems" meant it should give Hong Kong the highest degree of autonomy possible. Hong Kong did not have to consult China's advisers on the policy address. In fact, the liaison office was only given a copy of the speech as a courtesy after it was already printed.
Of course, CPPCC and NPC delegates do have good, useful ideas. And if they were elected in Hong Kong to represent the people here in the NPC and CPPCC, they would certainly have a legitimate role within Hong Kong, as well.
But, currently, they are appointed by Beijing to help govern the mainland, not to help run Hong Kong. Actually, even under the current system, there is a lot these members can do. For one thing, they can help their constituents, such as Hong Kong businesspeople and tourists who get into trouble on the mainland. That alone should keep them busy.
In view of the "one country, two systems" policy, it seems odd that Beijing should want Hong Kong to agree that whomever it appoints as its advisers should automatically become advisers to the Hong Kong administration as well.
Consultation of Beijing appointees is a relatively recent development. NPC deputies were not consulted on the drafting of a policy address until 2005, after Tsang became chief executive. This has become a practice every year since.
Now, it appears, CPPCC members are also to be formally consulted every year on the policy address, and probably on other issues as well.
According to last year's Wen Wei Po report, the Hong Kong administration would also appoint Beijing's appointees to public office and confer on them public honours.
We have now seen the first part of this agreement being carried out. No doubt, other parts are yet to follow. Of course, we can't say that "one country, two systems" has been junked. Hong Kong is still very different from other Chinese cities. But it does appear that Beijing has changed its thinking over the years on how this policy is supposed to work. The central government now has Hong Kong on a shorter and shorter leash.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.frank.ching@scmp.com