Sat, Mar 16, 2002 - Page 8 News List

The oxymoron of Tung's leadership

By Paul Lin 林保華

With no one willing to run against him last month, Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) automatically won another five-year term. According to the regulations, a candidate must be nominated by at least 100 members of the 800-strong election committee set up by Beijing. Tung was nominated by 714 members or almost 90 percent. Obviously, committee members wanted to curry favor with Tung and avoid offending Beijing.

Nevertheless, no one else could have be nominated to run against Tung. This was what the Chinese communist regime called a democratic election.

Tung's "election" on Feb. 28, or "228," was not a good sign. For a long time, 228 has been a symbol of sadness in Taiwan. The fact that Hong Kong, which wants to be Taiwan's role model for "one country, two systems," chose that date for the election indicates an appalling lack of political wisdom among those involved.

In coordination with this farce, Tung put a great deal of effort into creating an appropriate atmosphere, using the media to shape his image as being close to the people, while declining requests to participate in public forums, lest he make blunders under open questioning. More-over, Beijing has repeatedly thrown its support behind Tung and said it was willing to give economic benefits to Hong Kong. It was planning to establish a China-Hong Kong free trade zone and considering allowing Chinese investors to speculate in the territory's stock market.

Most importantly, scapegoats must be found for Tung's admin-istrative failures. Hong Kong's civil servants -- the "residue British evil" -- are the scape-goats, and the sacking of former chief secretary for administration Anson Chan (陳方安生) early last year was the prelude to this.

However, economic figures have failed to erase Tung's disastrous incompetence. According to figures released by Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Depart-ment, unemployment between November last year and January this year was 6.7 percent, a new record high for Hong Kong and higher than the figures for Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and even the official figures for China. Tung and Financial Secretary Antony Leung (梁錦松) were forced to admit that the unemployment rate is continuing to rise.

Meanwhile, the government's financial deficit has been worsening by the day. It is a structural deficit, mainly due to further integration between Hong Kong and China since the territory's handover in 1997. The integration has reduced tax, investment and land sale revenues. Over a long period, deflation has not been redressed and government spending has not been cut.

According to an announcement last month by the finance task force reviewing the government's public policy, Hong Kong's financial situation was already in an alarming state. This year's deficit will be HK$66 billion, while the next 20 years will score more than HK$50 billion in deficits each. Financial reserves will run dry in fiscal 2008 and 2009.

Hong Kong was shaken by the news, but scholars were suspicious of the government's moti-vations. They believed the figures were exaggerated and meant to scare Hong Kongers -- just like the exaggerated numbers released two years ago of possible applicants for residency. The administration had released those figures before asking Beijing to overturn a ruling by Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal on the residency status of children born in Hong Kong to Chinese parents.

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