In a speech of utmost importance on the future of “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong, delivered on July 1, 2022, in Hong Kong, President Xi Jinping admonished the new Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to valiantly demonstrate new governance capability, new modes of governance, and a new governance style.
The reason behind these admonitions is that the next five years are critical to the successful implementation of OCTS and the long-term development of Hong Kong and the motherland. The performance of the HKSAR government in this crucial period will determine whether Hong Kong can fully exploit the development opportunities coming from the motherland, diversify Hong Kong’s industrial base, resolve Hong Kong’s deep-seated and festering social problems, and thereby secure Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability. Most importantly, good governance in Hong Kong will enable the city to “create a splendid feat on the journey ahead toward the second centenary goal of building China into a modern socialist country in all respects”, and “share the glory of the Chinese nation’s rejuvenation together with people in the rest of the country”.
The four expectations on enhancing governance in Hong Kong announced by President Xi in his speech are not only highly helpful in fostering good governance in the city but also are reflective of the shortcomings in Hong Kong’s governance since its return to the motherland in 1997.
In concrete terms, the four expectations raised by President Xi have to do with improving the governance capability, modes of governance, and the governance style of the HKSAR government.
In the first place, governance in Hong Kong must be grounded on a sagacious understanding of the world situation. The HKSAR government must broaden its international vision and should be capable of navigating the turbulent and dangerous international currents. Today, the world is experiencing “a great change that has not happened in a century”, the most prominent features of which include the rise of China, the transition of the world’s economic center of gravity to East Asia, the emergence of some large developing countries, the relative decline of the United States and the West, the unsustainability of the international order dominated by the United States, deglobalization, the increasing regional economic cooperation, financial, trade, and technological protectionism, the fraying of the international order in particular domains, etc. In the new world situation, to maintain hegemony, the US and the West will resort to all conceivable means to contain and weaken China, and Hong Kong cannot avoid becoming their target of attack. Even so, President Xi insists that in Hong Kong’s case, “opportunities and challenges coexist, but opportunities are more plentiful than challenges.” Consequently, a core task of the HKSAR government is to overcome the challenges and exploit the opportunities. The future of Hong Kong is contingent upon whether the government can complete this crucial task competently.
Second, since most of the development opportunities for Hong Kong come from the development of the motherland and the policies of the central government, the HKSAR government has to create and install the necessary conditions and milieu to accelerate the integration of Hong Kong into the overall development situation of the motherland, and fully utilize these opportunities and the policies of the central government. The purposes are to promote Hong Kong’s development and progress on all fronts and “to continue to create a strong impetus for growth”. Simultaneously, President Xi pledges that “the central government fully supports Hong Kong in its effort to seize historic opportunities offered by China’s development”. At the same time, Hong Kong should “actively dovetail itself with the 14th Five- Year Plan (2021-25) and other national strategies such as the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and high-quality Belt and Road cooperation”.
Third, the HKSAR must have a strategic mindset, and be able to actively plan the development of Hong Kong from an overall and long-term perspective. Indisputably, a major shortcoming of both the “colonial government” in the past and the HKSAR government up to the present moment is the dearth of strategic thinking, and that is shown in the absence of long-term and macroscopic planning by the government. All along, “ad hoc-ism” and “incrementalism” are the guiding principles behind a passive mode of governance. Individual policies are usually made in isolation and are not integral parts of an overall long-term development strategy or policy program. Consequently, the activities of various government bureaus and departments are not tightly coordinated, thus making it difficult to achieve the goals of the government in major policy domains. The absence of strategic thinking also renders it very difficult for the government to participate in the “five-year planning” cycle of the mainland or to merge Hong Kong’s development strategy (if any) with that of the country.
Fourth, the governance of the HKSAR government must be people-oriented and geared to serve the people and cater to their well-being. President Xi demands that the new government “should earnestly address people’s concerns and difficulties in daily life”. Over the years, a lot of social and livelihood problems have accumulated and deteriorated and have not been seriously dealt with. The most salient of them include the housing shortage, poverty, inadequate mobility opportunities for young people, and the scarcity of healthcare resources. President Xi makes an earnest appeal to the new government to heed the aspirations of the people: “We should actively respond to such aspirations. The newly inaugurated HKSAR government should be pragmatic, live up to what the people expect of it, and consider the expectations of the whole society, particularly ordinary citizens, as what it should accomplish foremost. … It should make sure that all citizens in Hong Kong share more fully and fairly in the fruits of development.”
President Xi’s admonitions on good governance in essence are tantamount to urging the HKSAR government to substantially change its political mindset and the way Hong Kong is to be governed. To meet President Xi’s high expectations, strenuous efforts must be made by the HKSAR government. Unarguably, it is only after President Xi’s expectations have been fully realized will Hong Kong be able to achieve good governance, prosperity, stability, and secure Hong Kong’s place in the country and the nation’s rejuvenation.
Fifth, President Xi admonishes that the administrators in the HKSAR “need to transform their concepts of governance to balance the relationship between the government and the market so that a capable government serves an efficient market”. This is wise advice. Historical evidence shows that successful development in all countries entails the effective division of labor between the “visible hand” of the state and the “invisible hand” of the market. The doctrines of laissez-faire, “positive non-interventionism”, or “small government, big market”, so glorified in the past, should no longer be followed. To continue to rely primarily on the market to solve the difficult economic, social, and livelihood problems of Hong Kong would only exacerbate them inordinately. A more active and people-oriented HKSAR government is desperately needed to promote long-term and sustainable economic development and enhance social justice and fairness.
Sixth, the HKSAR government “needs to strengthen self-governance and improve its conduct to better take on its responsibilities and deliver better performance”. The newly inaugurated government should enhance its ability in overall planning and coordination as well as in policy innovation. It should recruit more talent from society, particularly from the patriotic camp, into the public sector. It should reach out to the masses and be solicitous of their needs and sufferings. It should show a strong fighting spirit in combating the external and internal antagonistic forces.
Seventh, the HKSAR government is encouraged by President Xi to work closely together with the central government. As pointed out by President Xi, “only when the enforcement of the central government’s overall jurisdiction dovetails with the fulfillment of a high degree of autonomy in the SARs, can the SARs be well-governed”. The eventual suppression of the 2019-20 insurrection in Hong Kong attests brilliantly to the effectiveness of cooperation between the central government and the HKSAR government. In the years ahead, joint efforts by both of them are needed to ensure comprehensive and accurate implementation of OCTS.
Lastly, President Xi exhorts the HKSAR government to fully mobilize and deploy community resources to buttress its governance. Community support is particularly needed in overcoming the resistance to institutional and policy reforms and innovations from powerful vested interests.
All in all, President Xi has given a lot of wise advice and practical suggestions to the SAR government. The next step definitely is for the government to execute them to the hilt.
The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.