The Hong Kong elections

Hong Kong, where this blog is being written over this winter, matters. It is one of the world’s great cities, a veritable city-state with its own membership in many, many international bodies, and a global financial capital.

As many may know Hong Kong (population about 7.5 million) just elected a new Chief Executive ~ something more than a mayor and a bit less than a full blown prime minister, maybe something akin to a Canadian provincial premier, but a premier of a big, rich, powerful province.

There were three candidates for the post:

  • Carrie Lam 林鄭月娥 ~ 59 years old and the former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong (something very close to the Clerk of the privy Council in Ottawa: the most senior official who “ran” HK, day-to-day);
  • Woo Kwok-hing 胡國興 ~ 71 years old and a former judge of the High Court; and
  • John Tsang 曾俊華 – 65 years old and the former Financial Secretary (something like the Deputy Minister of Finance in Ottawa)

So it was a stellar field, one that is, very sadly, almost impossible to imagine in almost any major Western country, much less in a province or a city.

The election is run on a model that looks very much like the US presidential system. The people, the 7.5 million, do not vote; rather there are about 1,100 “electors” who are supposed to represent most groups in society. Ms Lam won with 775+ votes to Mr Tsang’s 365± (Judge Woo was a distant thirds with less than 25 votes). The result was (somewhat) predicted because it seemed pretty clear that Carrie Lam was Beijing’s choice while John Tsang was the popular choice of the younger, pro-democracy groups.

But, despite Beijing’s backing, Carrie Lam was universally acknowledged to be a superb candidate with a skill set and depth of knowledge that outshone everyone else. The only “charge” levelled against her was that she would be CY Leung 2.0, meaning that she would be a Hong-Kong-Umbrella-Protests-October-1-02near mirror image of her former boss, the outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. There are worse things. The most interesting point of Leung Chun-ying’s term was the “Yellow Umbrella Revolution” in 2014 during which tens of thousands of (mostly) young people took to the streets for weeks to advocate for more democracy and against Beijing’;s tightening control.

CY Leung did several things right:

  • He recognized that this was a legitimate, principled protest and he handled it as such;
  • He told Beijing to back-off, and, to its credit, the central government stayed invisible;
  • He told the police to deal firmly and fairly, even gently, with the protesters ~ reminding them that they were just bright, young HK students, by and large, the children and grandchildren of their friends and neighbours: even their own kids in a few cases;
  • He waited, patiently, for the student leaders to be displaced, as they were, by more radical people who would “over-reach,” as they did, and give him a good excuse to put a stop to it all, which he did.

Now, as I have mentioned, I am unable to understand China’s attitude towards Hong Kong.

Only a fool or an insane person would think that there is any sensible alternative to the peaceful integration of Taiwan back into China. Taiwan in a rich and productive place, with a pretty good military. It can be taken by force, but not without a big fight and one that will do serious physical and moral damage and leave a legacy of hatred in Taiwan that would persist for generations.

The key to peaceful reintegration is “one country – two systems.” The way to make Taiwan rejoin China willingly, even enthusiastically, is to show that China can, generously, manage “one country – two systems” in Hong Kong. Instead some hardliners in Beijing seem to be calling the shots, and, in my opinion, they are doing it exactly back-asswards.

We, Canadians, want a free trade deal with China and, for now, most Canadian investments in Asia are still brokered and banked in Hong Kong.

My sense is that a lot of Canadians have interests in Hong Kong and that we should, generally, welcome, the election of Carrie Lam because I think she will steer a cautious course that preserves Hong Kong’s autonomy and the key institutions ~ rule of law, sound administration, honest banking, etc ~ that make HK special.

 

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