Message From the Chairman
From Colonial Rule to using Democracy as a way to put Competitive Ideas into practice
It was said that the cardinal principle of the colonial government in ruling Hong Kong was as in other British colonies: to prolong British rule for as long as possible for as little cost as possible.
Sir Alexander Grantham was the Hong Kong Governor when I was born in 1955. Grantham saw the fall of Nationalist China and the birth of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Sir Alexander was followed by a string of Colonial Office appointees. In 1958, Sir Robert Black succeeded Grantham, after a stint as the last Governor of Singapore. In 1964, Sir David Trench took over and he witnessed the bloody 1967 riots in Hong Kong which marked the beginning of the Great Cultural Revolution.
Hong Kong was very much a refugee community in the 50s and 60s. Many came to Hong Kong to avoid poverty and political excesses in Communist China. Many used Hong Kong as a springboard for a better life overseas.
MacLehose's Years of Emergence
Sir Murray MacLehose (Governor from 1971-1982) made more significant changes in Hong Kong. As the first Foreign Office appointee, he was worldlier and more liberal than all of his predecessors. The MacLehose Years could be dubbed the "Years of Emergence". He started a welfare programme to appease the discontent which partly caused the 1967 riots. Chinese members were beginning to appear in the Executive Council. He took Jimmy McGregor (a founding member of the HKDF), a young and liberal minded official, into his inner sanctum. The ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) was started during the MacLehose years.
Political consciousness amongst the first generation of Hong Kong politicians emerged in the 70's. Also emerging then were the first true Hong Kong tycoons, who were happy making money under a predictable framework provided by the British. In 1972, CY Tung's plan to convert the transatlantic liner Queen Elizabeth into a floating university ended with a mysterious fire which burnt for three days off the western anchorage. CY Tung died soon afterwards and CH Tung (eldest son of CY and current CEO of Hong Kong) took over the family shipping business.
Years of Uncertainty
By the time Sir Murray finished his term in 1982, the question of Hong Kong's future had emerged. Sir Edward Youde, who died of a heart attack in Beijing in 1986, and Sir David Wilson were Putonghua-speaking Sinologists of the British Foreign Office. They focused on the negotiation of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule and left the running of Hong Kong's day-to-day affairs to largely their Chief Secretaries.
The 1989 Tienanmen incident changed the course of the negotiations over Hong Kong. The Sino-British partnership over Hong Kong turned into a confrontation. By 1992, only five years before Hong Kong was due to revert to Chinese rule, it emerged that the British Government was unhappy with the concessions made by the "Sinologist". Wilson was recalled and he was replaced by Chris Patten, the first-ever political appointee who was to become the Last Governor of Hong Kong. Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and CH Tung took over as the first CEO.
Years of Endurance
Hong Kong was working pretty well under British rule. Why does it seem that Hong Kong is enduring Mr. Tung's ten-year rule? Why does it seem that Hong Kong is still being ruled on the colonial dictum of prolonging rule for as long as possible for as little cost (to the rulers) as possible? Why should Hong Kong be in such poor health? What caused the Central Government to send a team to Hong Kong to ask people about what they really think of CH Tung shortly before he started his second term? What caused Premier Zhu Rongji to say, "If Hong Kong should do less well under Chinese rule than under British rule, we (Central Government) should also bear part of the responsibility"?
Some were quick to blame "time bombs" laid by the British. The Asian Financial Crisis was also blamed. The economic transition faced by Hong Kong is perceived as a difficulty unique to Hong Kong, as if the UK, Australia, the US, the Netherlands and the other more developed economies of the world had not gone through the same experience.
It seems to me, the British were more experienced administrators. They had the tradition of the British Empire and the experience of a modern European Government behind them. It seems to me that Sir Murray had a vision and a plan for Hong Kong. He saw the shortcomings and he tried to correct the insensitivities of the Colonial Office appointees who came before him. Perhaps Chris Patten had a game plan too before setting foot in Hong Kong - to implement an honourable retreat of British rule from Hong Kong.
The question we should now ask is if Mr. Tung had a game plan for Hong Kong before he took on his term? If he had one, did he articulate it well enough?
Keeping up with the rate of changeMany have their own theories of what went wrong for Hong Kong. Mrs. Anson Chan, former Chief Secretary of the HKSAR Government who came to speak at the HKDF on 3 September 2002 must have her own inkling of what went wrong too! But anyone who has worked for a Chinese businessman would understand her difficulties in working with Tung. Instead of being able to speak her mind and promulgate policies from dispassionate and professional perspectives, "harmony" is emphasized and valued in Tung's regime. From the way Article 23 is now being handled, the value of a "loyal opposition" or the possibility of using the better parts of an opposing view to improve the Government's own policy is still not understood by the current rulers of Hong Kong.
Discontent is also growing amongst the businessmen. Mr. Christopher Cheng, Chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, did not hesitate when he came to speak to the HKDF on 28 October 2002 to point out that Hong Kong has an oversized Civil Service. In subsequent articles in the press, he has given very critical assessments of the handling of the budget deficit, civil service pay level and civil service redundancy. Mr. Christopher Cheng quoted Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric in an article published in the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce magazine: "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."
The budget deficit, Article 23 and unemployment are just some of the problems faced by Hong Kong. It does not as though Hong Kong will come out of its downward economic cycle for another 4-5 years. A fatherly, caring and ultra-conservative approach to problem-solving may not be the right answer for Hong Kong now. Whether Hong Kong will ever make the smooth transition into the ranks of the First World societies will very much depend on the visions and abilities of our rulers, since they still monopolize the power to implement change. Will we be able to reform our healthcare and healthcare financing systems? Will a Competition Law be implemented to help bring down the costs? Will Hong Kong find more land for recreational use? All of these things and many more are needed to realize the vision "Asia's world city".
Democracy as a problem-solving approach
Ironically, there is no lack of smart people who are capable of coming up with alternative and workable solutions for Hong Kong.
At the HKDF January luncheon (16 January 2003), US Consul General James Keith, pleaded passionately that the HKSAR Government open up to solutions from "below". Explaining the US views on Hong Kong from a geo-political point-of-view, he said that the biggest enemy of the US is terrorism. However, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan is considered a friendly territory. The US-China relationship is considered to be improving now, the China-Taiwan relationship is stable and no trouble is expected in the near future. Since China is anxious for Taiwan to re-unite, Hong Kong might have more room to maneuver than the HKSAR Government imagines.
However, Hong Kong must not think that solutions will come from outside. Blaming Tung will not get our problems solved. Hong Kong would be better off if we could come to consensus on how to change our political system into an open and democratic one where competitive solutions could be channeled from "below". Then we must use our imagination and explain to the Central Government why this is a better way for Hong Kong and for China as a whole.