HK needs leader who has strong persuasive power

Leadership is persuasion. A good leader should convince his/her followers that his/her policies serve their interests. The next step is to lead his/her team to achieve the tasks. But persuasion is not confined to logic. Hong Kong also needs a relationship-oriented chief executive to create emotional resonance with the underprivileged to shore up their confidence in the special administrative region government’s ability to fight the pandemic, solve socioeconomic problems, and promote their well-being. An empathetic CE should be able to step into the shoes of the underprivileged and convince them to look to the future with hope and optimism.

For example, many young people are fed up with the housing problems of Hong Kong. Our officials often claim that they have secured more than enough land to meet the housing demands of Hong Kong in the long run. Unfortunately, the Northern Metropolis and the Lantau Tomorrow Vision are too remote to be relevant to our short-term housing needs. The new CE must take concrete steps to increase housing supply in the short and medium terms to meet the expectations of the public. The message must be firm and clear.

Apart from using pathos to make his/her persuasive message woven into the fabric of the life experiences of the underprivileged, the CE must be credible, trustworthy and willing to listen to dissenting views and converse in good faith. In particular, the next CE should build a rapport with the critics — both here and overseas. Though attitudes built up over long periods are resistant to change, the CE should engage in regular dialogue with the critics to present a defense to their criticisms.

Confronted with some hostile external forces and the West’s global media hegemony, the next CE must provide reasonable and legally sound arguments to convince the critics that Anglo-Saxon-style democracy is not suitable for Hong Kong. With tailor-made provision for Hong Kong under the principle of “one country, two systems”, the electoral reforms would help promote cooperation between the executive and legislative branches, thereby delivering good governance. The CE should also convince the critics that Hong Kong’s interest is best served by the new national security regime because of its strong safeguards for national security and the resultant mutual trust and stability to preserve the strengths of the two systems.

Bias and prejudice die hard. The next CE should not indulge in the unrealistic hope that he/she can easily persuade critics such as the International Bar Association and some unfriendly Western politicians and organizations to make a fair assessment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. Recently, the International Bar Association called on the world to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong in response to the promulgation of the National Security Law. Even though the persuasive message appears to be unsuccessful in the short term, change might occur much later.

To lead is to be visionary. According to Werner Erhard, Michael Jensen and Steve Zaffron, leadership is defined as “an exercise in language that results in the realization of a future that was not going to happen anyway, which future fulfills the fundamental concerns of the relevant parties”. The visionary “China Dream” promoted by President Xi Jinping has won the hearts and minds of Chinese people. They are willing to work hard for national rejuvenation. Ronald Reagan made a famous inaugural address by telling Americans that the US government was not the solution to American problems — it was the problem. His future plan was to introduce supply-side economic policies to save the American economy. These policies fulfilled the fundamental concerns of his followers.

Besides showing a strong determination to solve socioeconomic problems, the next CE should lay down a comprehensive action plan that can paint a promising future for Hong Kong. It is first necessary to convince Hong Kong people that our future lies in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Living in a cluster of world-class cities for more job offers, investment opportunities and leisure lifestyles brings hope to many people in the territory. Such optimism is grounded in the popular belief that Hong Kong, Macao and the nine mainland cities in the GBA will soon become an economic powerhouse, and we can attain common prosperity goals by complementing each other. The next CE should be able to transmit his/her positive attitude toward integration through the mechanism of emotional contagion underpinned by excellent communicative skills.

The crucial test is to bridge the socioeconomic divide in the region without compromising our fundamental and unique position. The cloud of suspicion over any immigration plan to attract talent in the GBA to work in Hong Kong may attract a firestorm of criticism from local labor unions and organizations. The next CE should press the “stop” button on such suspicion by persuasion. As a relationship-oriented leader, the next CE should build a harmonious working relationship with the local governments of the partner cities in the GBA.

The “black-shirt riots” in 2019 have exposed the huge political divide between the “blue” and “yellow” camps. Following the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the sweeping electoral reforms to ensure that patriots run Hong Kong, two-thirds of the 452 district councilors — all from the opposition camps — were out of their seats. The political polarization has dragged into the spotlight the urgent need to start reconciliation work to narrow the political divide and restore social harmony. As a relationship-oriented leader, the next CE should be equipped with high emotional intelligence to understand and relate to both camps. It is of redoubled importance that the CE should remind the “yellow” camp to keep a safe distance from anti-social disruptors and hostile external forces.

To conclude, a relationship-oriented CE, with strong persuasive power, can meet the needs of the times. One final reminder is that the next CE should pay special attention to the additional requirements for patriotic administrators recently laid down by Xia Baolong, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office. These five requirements are: emotional attachment to the motherland, breadth of mind, performance, readiness to assume responsibility, and competence. We send our blessings to the next CE from the depths of our hearts.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.