Why Chief Executive must love the nation and HK

Updated: 2014-08-21 07:11

By Leung Kwok-leung(HK Edition)

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Allow me to begin with some questions: What can we do if the Chief Executive (CE) sells out Hong Kong for the benefit of foreign countries? What can we do if the CE runs away with a sizeable portion of Hong Kong's wealth? My answer would be: "Nothing magical."

The only thing we can and should do is to try to prevent it happening and hope for the best. Even if there were a way to retrieve the stolen wealth retrospectively, serious damage to the stability of Hong Kong's currency as well as the financial markets would have been done. This would probably be followed by political, economic and social breakdown.

This is not a scene from some Hollywood movie. This scenario could actually happen if we abandon requirements that the CE must "Love the Nation as well as Hong Kong". Why?

Many people still remember how the SAR government used its vast foreign exchange reserves to defeat attempts by international speculators to harm Hong Kong's financial markets by short-selling during the Asian financial crisis in 1998. It didn't take long for speculators to realize they were no match for Hong Kong's monetary authorities. Hong Kong's stock market was saved.

That battle against speculation was decided by the financial secretary and executed on the orders of the permanent secretary for financial services and the treasury and the chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The CE was informed of the measures by the financial secretary. This leads to another question: What if these three officials had used this opportunity to collude, or if the CE had colluded with the three officials and they had decided to steal a huge amount of Hong Kong's reserves? Is this technically possible? Absolutely.

According to official accounts of these events (made public years later) the buy-back was not done in the SAR government's name but in somebody else's. It was strategically necessary and successful. Therefore there is very little to fault the decision-makers, except perhaps their secrecy. This also would have made it technically possible for them to steal billions and flee. Besides, the central government has never refused to approve the top administrative team each CE has assembled. This includes the three principal secretaries (the chief secretary, the financial secretary and the justice secretary) who are individually appointed by the State Council.

That is a tangible demonstration of "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong" as Beijing had promised. It says much of the trust the central government places in the CE with regards to the SAR government. However, because this trust is based on what Beijing knows about the CE and his governing team, it also leaves the door open for the potential abuse of trust. This is why demanding unconditional patriotism from the CE is a sensible, legitimate requirement.

Hong Kong is a significant international financial center. But it is also a rather small open economy vulnerable to outside shocks. That is why the CE must have considerable authority to make strategic decisions to defend the territory against unexpected challenges. This arrangement was agreed on by the Chinese and British governments when they were negotiating the handover of Hong Kong to China. It was the British government who developed this executive-led system for Hong Kong.

That the SAR government could successfully fend off attacks by speculators with the city's vast forex reserves proves this executive-led system is crucial to Hong Kong's financial well-being. Naturally Beijing has every reason to hold the CE to a very high standard of political integrity.

Some "worry" that the central government might use patriotism as a way to constrain the CE. But this is laughable when one considers the degree of latitude the CE enjoys in running Hong Kong. The central government maintains a hands-off approach towards the CE regarding his constitutional duties. But it also ensures no mainland ministries, commissions or provincial governments meddle in Hong Kong affairs. Moreover, the CE is at liberty to visit any foreign country as necessary and enjoy the kind of reception befitting a head of state. By contrast, the leader of Taiwan finds it very difficult to go abroad in his official capacity.

It is no secret that the security guards protecting a head of state are not only responsible for their safety; they are also expected to stop their potential defection to an enemy state. China is no different from the US in this regard. But the CE is never followed by agents sent by the central government when he travels overseas. All this would not have been possible had Beijing not placed its trust in the CE.

Imagine what it would mean to Hong Kong and to national security if someone, who openly transgressed the Basic Law and mixed with the wrong people, were to win the CE election. How could Hong Kong residents feel safe if their CE were such a person? That is why the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping asked the rhetorical question: "Does universal suffrage guarantee the elected CE loves the nation as well as Hong Kong?" This is why the Basic Law requires a Nominating Committee (NC) to "guard the door". This requirement also means the central government would never accept any constitutional reform plan that would reduce the NC to a rubber stamp.

Some object to the idea that a majority decision by the NC means more than 50 percent of all NC members have to agree on every CE candidate. They have demanded a significantly lower percentage of NC member support for candidates. Since "lowering the threshold" would effectively remove the NC's constitutional authority, it will unquestionably be dismissed by the central government.

When China and Britain began negotiations over the return of Hong Kong, the territory accepted the idea that the CE must "Love the Nation as well as Hong Kong." People would feel betrayed if they were to be told the CE did not have to be a patriot. Why can the US have a "Patriot Act" but Hong Kong does not have something similar?

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong.

(HK Edition 08/21/2014 page9)