‘Results-oriented’ ideology a commitment to action

Mr John Lee Ka-chiu has recently publicized his election manifesto for the 2022 Hong Kong chief executive election, campaigning for “starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together”. With 45 years’ experience serving in the public sector, rising from a front-line policeman to a leading government official, Mr Lee has demonstrated a firm conviction to serve Hong Kong and emphasized a results-oriented governance approach in his manifesto.

Hong Kong is now at a critical juncture. Over the past few years, the city has confronted unprecedented challenges. The 2019 social unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic and the deteriorating global geopolitical environment have dealt multiple blows to Hong Kong’s society and economy. While the fundamental competitive advantages of Hong Kong remain solid and the city has demonstrated remarkable resilience coping with headwinds, the city’s deep-rooted problems, such as worsening inequality, a lack of upward social mobility, an inadequate housing supply, an unbalanced industrial structure, the gaps in the education system, as well as shortcomings in public healthcare, have been amplified by these disruptions.

Looking ahead, as the most important international financial and commercial hub to bridge the Chinese mainland with the West in the global business networks, Hong Kong will likely face an increasingly complex environment that simultaneously brings opportunities and risks.

On the one hand, Hong Kong has a unique strategic position in China’s new “dual-circulation” development paradigm. The long-term growth dynamism, innovation drive, and industrial upgrading of the mainland economy will continue to boost the demand for Hong Kong’s supply of a world-class business environment and professional services. The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development will stimulate a more efficient flow of talent and capital, stimulating more specialization, cooperation, and productivity improvement in the region. How to ensure the gains of economic growth and wealth creation can be more equitably and inclusively shared by the society will be essential for Hong Kong’s social cohesion and competitiveness.

On the other hand, given the rising geopolitical tensions and anti-China sentiment in the West, Hong Kong will inevitably face many risks brought about by the changing global and regional order. Ranging from finance and trade to national security, there is a complex tapestry of great-power rivalry between the East and the West that can potentially generate turbulence. How to navigate this increasingly volatile external environment and steer the city through various potential disturbances will be critical for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

Leadership and governance capability matters enormously at such a historic juncture. Without strong leadership, a government administration can easily become a wandering ship. Without effective governance capability, a government would not be able to turn its policies into sound action and solid results. Mr Lee is right to put strengthening governance capability at the core of his election manifesto, placing “the rule of law, integrity and efficiency” as “core pillars of sound governance”, pledging to build “a united, efficient, and pragmatic administration” that is “results-oriented and solution-driven”.

For governments of the 21st century, there are three key dimensions of governance: capability building, namely, the legal-administrative system; policy talent and intelligence; as well as mobilization capability.

Hong Kong’s mature legal-administrative system based on the rule of law has long been the foundation of its success. The National Security Law for Hong Kong and the recent electoral reforms have paved the way for further strengthening its legal-administrative capability by addressing the previous loopholes and gridlocks. The new administration will operate in an improved political environment, featuring a much healthier executive-legislature relationship underpinned by “patriots governing Hong Kong”.

In his manifesto, Mr Lee has pledged that the new administration shall “uphold the rule of law as its core value and govern in strict accordance with law”, “establish a clear direction” for Hong Kong’s development, and “work in concert with the Legislative Council to raise HK’s governance capability”. He will also explore a reorganization of the government structure aimed at “strengthening the strategic planning, policy research and overall coordination efforts”.

Public policy talent and intelligence are vital for governance capability building. Attracting, motivating and nurturing talent have featured prominently in Lee’s manifesto, which emphasizes “teamwork” with senior officials leading proactively and guiding the team in problem-solving processes, and to “develop administrative talents who love our country and Hong Kong” as well as “attract capable people from all sectors of society to serve on government committees and advisory bodies”. He has also pointed out that the government shall “tap into the research capability of think tanks” and “build a high-quality, multifaceted think tank ecosystem” to improve public policy research.

It’s worth pointing out that while Hong Kong has a highly professional public-services talent pool and several top research universities in Asia that are well positioned to attract talent, Hong Kong now is still at a relatively early stage of building a high-quality policy research, education and think tank ecosystem that can match its status as a leading international financial and business hub. In particular, arguably none of Hong Kong’s top universities has yet developed a highly influential public policy school that is comparable to that, for example, of Tsinghua University, Harvard University and the National University of Singapore. There is still a lot to do in this area to strengthen Hong Kong’s policy research and talent-training ecosystem.

Mobilization capability refers to the government’s skills, capabilities, and policy space to mobilize and coordinate stakeholders in multiple sectors (private, public and civil society) to address targeted problems. Mission-oriented governance can systemically mobilize knowledge, skills and resources across sectors to confront the big societal challenges. It’s particularly important when dealing with emergencies and crises, such as pandemics and financial crises. Mr Lee has proposed establishing a new “mobilization protocol” for the government and to “form an interdepartmental emergency response unit” to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. In the event of an emergency, “each government department contributes a certain number of people based on the emergency level”, and “depending on emergency needs, establish a command center under the command of a senior official”.

Governance is essentially a process of steering and social learning in an uncertain environment. Mr Lee’s vision of reform has covered the key dimensions of governance capability building. He has promised to “cultivate unity in the society by bringing together and working with all sectors and people of Hong Kong”, and “build a government led by a responsible team able to solve Hong Kong’s problems”. The governance philosophy conveyed by his manifesto is one of pragmatism, unity and consensus building, and above all, a commitment to turn vision into action and solutions. To start a new chapter of Hong Kong’s development, pragmatic action is indeed what we need most.

The author is an associate professor at the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a research fellow (by courtesy) at the Lau Chor Tak Institute of Global Economics and Finance.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.