"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"This system is not universal democracy. But then again, the former governors of Hong Kong arrived on the whim of the British PM of the day."
In a one-horse town, you get a one-horse race. So not much has changed from the colonial era. Except to say some kind of feedback mechanism is in place as evidenced by the departure of the deeply unpopular Carrie Lam.
For my readers overseas (all three of you), Hong Kong has an election coming up for our chief executive. This job is not to be sniffed at because it is the world's second-highest-paid official position. The chief executive gets more than the US president, the British PM and just about everyone else in a top job other than the leader of Singapore.
Further, the role has some international significance, given Hong Kong's unique status within China. Also, we are an important financial centre and, regrettably, a pawn in the increasing ideological conflict between the West and China.
Of course, had the so-called democrats not blocked changes proposed in 2014, the citizens of Hong Kong could head to the polls. But instead, the opposition opted to go for broke with a demand for all or nothing now, rejecting Beijing's incremental approach to democratic development. Unfortunately, this move triggered a series of events that led to civil unrest. But that's another story.
Hence the vote for the CE will fall to the 1,454 election committee members. Moreover, the only candidate standing for election is John Lee, former senior police officer, former security secretary, and chief secretary. Given that he already has 750 nominations, half of the Election Committee, the result is inevitable.
Early on, a couple of no-hopers did indicate an interest in running, although this was more a publicity stunt than a serious effort.
Without a doubt, this system is not universal democracy. But then again, the former governors of Hong Kong arrived on the whim of the British PM of the day. For example, Chris Patten came here because the people of Bath rejected him as an MP, therefore his mate John Major then gave him the job as a consolation prize.
It is commonplace to observe that Lee is not a politician, nor does he have a background in business. Thus, he follows in the steps of the most successful governors from the colonial era.
To his myopic critics, Lee is all about national security. Such assessments reveal a closed mindset to tell more about the commentators than Lee. After all, there are plenty of examples of successful non-politicians taking the reins of power after a short apprenticeship. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the current darling of the West, is a former comedian. Everybody has to start somewhere.
Anyway, I am not sure having a hinterland of obligations to vested political interests has played out well in the Western democracies. It's easy to see that the US political system, controlled by a few powerful lobbying interests, is out of kilter. Meanwhile, the UK's often claimed 'values' are looking somewhat tattered under the premiership of 'Billy Liar' Boris Johnson.
Plus, these opinions around Lee ignore a few truths. First, all senior police officers need political skills to navigate the district councils, LegCo, and media scrutiny. In this regard, Lee was often at the forefront. Likewise, the internal politics of the police force and the civil service sharpen the skills of any player.
Yet, in the end, I reckon Lee's most significant advantage is that he's not from the stale, slow and unimaginative administrative officer cadre — the clique of bureaucrats that ran Hong Kong for decades. Both Carrie Lam and Donald Tsang are former AOs.
Observing them at work during my 36 years of service, as a group they engaged in policy analysis to paralysis; slow to respond, over-cautious, a few metastasised into roadblocks. The lack of coherence across government during the Covid crisis is ample proof that the AO cadre flatlined.
Crucially, that caution may have seeded their downfall. As civil disorder spread in 2019, many AOs sat on the fence, a position that did not go unnoticed in Beijing. It is suggested that manifested in petty gestures of non-cooperation with the struggling police force. Examples include denying access to buildings and carparks during operations. Is it too much to submit that the AOs proved less than loyal and forfeited their standing? That's a view held by many.
Meanwhile, YouTube has decided to ban John Lee's official channel. They claim that US sanctions against Lee mandate such a move. Yet, Facebook has taken a different stance. In truth, such a ban is irrelevant except to strengthen the argument that the US is seeking to interfere here. Likewise, the recent coordinated attacks on the independence of Hong Kong courts orchestrated by UK politicians come to mind.
But these moves are backfiring. After all, you can hardly champion free speech when you silence people or talk of justice when you pressure judges to step down. But then again, in the UK context, we are dealing with a third-rate Tory cabinet. Moreover, at times the UK appears hellbent on forfeiting any influence in Hong Kong by alienating all sides.
Lee is taking over at a tough time. The pain of the civil unrest still resonates on all sides; the economy is fragile after the battering of Covid, and confidence in the future is wavering. So, the new CE needs to steady the ship to restore positive sentiment by allowing Hong Kong to return to business. And that includes opening up to international travel, unfettered by the current draconian controls.
The pandemic, and some of the institutional failings it has exposed, will provide opportunity and rationale for reform. Lee will prove an effective Chief Executive if he drives that change.
So let's wish him well.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.