Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Wednesday presented her maiden Policy Address and she named the preface “A New Beginning”. At the end of her presentation to the Legislative Council, Lam said she and her governing team would continue listening to what lawmakers and members of the public had to say about the Policy Address, so as to make it truly representative of a new beginning for Hong Kong. Accurately understanding the “new beginning” or “new starting point” is crucial to understanding the current situation in Hong Kong and objectively evaluating the new special administrative region government’s performance.
First, 20 years after China resumed sovereign rule over Hong Kong, the city is at a historical point where it must build upon its past achievements to create a brand-new future.
In the preface of her address, Lam reminded people of President Xi Jinping’s heartfelt words in his speech at the ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong SAR and inauguration of the fifth-term government here on July 1, particularly regarding the “one country, two systems” principle. She asserted “… everybody with a passion for Hong Kong has the responsibility to ensure that, here in Hong Kong, ‘one country, two systems’ advances in the right direction, the obligation to say ‘no’ to any attempt to threaten our country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as the duty to nurture our next generation into citizens with a sense of national identity, an affection for Hong Kong and a sense of social responsibility”.
Second, after 15 years of struggle with political harassment by the opposition that spanned the second- through fourth-term SAR governments, the chief executive of the fifth-term SAR government is determined to lead Hong Kong society in focusing on economic development and improving livelihoods.
In today’s Hong Kong, political issues are compounded by economic and livelihood issues; while political contradictions are compounded by ideological clashes, any attempt to resolve those issues must begin with addressing the most pressing public demands from the great majority of Hong Kong society. And various public opinion polls overwhelmingly show most local residents want economic growth and better lives more than anything else.
Developing the economy and improving people’s well-being may not be able to cure the political ills that tear our society apart but can help expunge the divisive political atmosphere. Some of the Hong Kong residents upset about economic and livelihood difficulties have found an outlet in the counterproductive political campaigns of the opposition camp, but continued economic development and improved well-being can ease such animosity. That means political issues and concerns about the economy and people’s livelihood can be separated as the latter two improve.
Third, the political management and governing style of the SAR has begun to change in response to the new situation and mission of the administration, meaning the focus of governance is now on “people”.
Lam did not use the term “people-oriented” in the Policy Address but she has demonstrated the intention abundantly with action since taking office. Nothing is more effective in learning what people want and answering popular wishes than engaging with people. The new chief executive and her team of principal officials visited nearly 50 districts and local communities in the first 100 days in office, with about three senior officials having visited each of the 18 districts on average during that period, which is unprecedented in Hong Kong history.
Particularly noteworthy is that Lam said in her policy blueprint that the fifth-term SAR government is willing to foot medical bills for patients with special needs who cannot afford hospital treatment out of their own pockets.
Last but not least is that the new CE is determined to keep the government’s role up to date with changing times. Lam has advocated since she kicked off her CE election campaign that the SAR government should serve as an “enabler” and “facilitator” of economic restructuring. In the Policy Address, she has followed up with plans to introduce a “two-tier” profits-tax regime for local enterprises and elaborated on measures to advance innovation and technology development from eight approaches. All of those plans are unprecedented.
Admittedly, Hong Kong has many difficulties to overcome when it steps forward from the “new starting point” or “new beginning”. For starters, the opposition camp will instinctively try to block or interrupt government operations as they always do. The “pan-democrats” are already angry about the absence of any mention of restarting the constitutional reform process in the Policy Address.
Then there is the perpetual hustle and bustle in trying to answer different demands from all corners of society. One would assume everybody understands that sometimes short-term stop-gap solutions are necessary, but some people cannot help but get ahead of themselves and expect all policies to be “guaranteed cure”.
And when it comes to boosting economic development and improving people’s livelihoods, some people with vested interests in the status quo are bound to complain about and oppose measures designed to replace the old with something new. However, progress must continue and stopping means going backward, which is not only unacceptable to the central government and nation but especially to the great majority of Hong Kong residents.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, October 16, 2017)