Beijing muscles in on HK stage
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam, CNN Senior China Analyst
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Beijing is set to play a much bigger role in Hong Kong politics as the authority of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa becomes further diminished due to the crisis over the national security bill.
Tung's woeful inability to respond to public opinion was illustrated by the fact that it was only after a member of his Executive Council resigned from the cabinet before he agreed early Monday to postpone the enactment of the controversial anti-subversion law.
With the withdrawal of the backing of James Tien's Liberal Party, Tung's only basis of support is the pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong as well as Beijing's Hong Kong-based representatives.
Last Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party's supreme ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), met to discuss how to deal with the anti-Tung demonstration staged by 500,000 Hong Kong residents two days earlier.
Chinese sources in Beijing said largely on the recommendation of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the PSC decided that Tung could make some compromises on the anti-subversion legislation so as to pacify the angry public.
For example, the controversial clause proscribing organizations that have ties with outlawed mainland groups could be dropped -- and Hong Kong courts could accept the 'public interest defense' when hearing cases of journalists suspected of leaking state secrets.
Individual senior cadres also pointed out that the enactment of the bill, originally set for July 9, could be delayed by a few months.
The sources said PSC members including Wen, who left Hong Kong the day of the demonstrations after a 48-hour visit, also indicated that ways and means must be found to "beef up the administrative ability" of the Hong Kong government.
It is understood that the Hu-Wen team is intensely dissatisfied with the performance of Tung, an appointee of former president Jiang Zemin's, whose tenure runs into 2007.
Since the Hong Kong Basic Law does not afford an easy way to change the chief executive before his term is up, Beijing is expected to use other ways to influence Hong Kong politics so as to ensure stability -- and to prevent a recurrence of massive street demonstrations.
Hong Kong-based political analysts think the latest political crisis could mark the beginning of more overt interference by Beijing in the territory's affairs -- and a further blow to the one country, two systems model.
For example, while the Basic Law stipulates clearly that Hong Kong has full authority in drafting a national security legislation, Tung and his aides spent a long time consulting Beijing on the details of the bill before announcing the concessions.
According to the head of the think tank Civic Exchange, Christine Loh, Tung's authority is so undermined that his administration may never regain credibility.
Loh, a former legislator, said influential political and business figures in the SAR were "hot footing to Beijing to seek the views of and instructions from senior cadres."
City University of Hong Kong social scientist Ivan Choy thinks one possibility is that Beijing may bypass Tung and that orders will be given on a de facto basis to Hong Kong by central party and government authorities.
The other possibility, Choy said, was that Beijing's representative offices in Hong Kong including the Central Liaison Office would be "playing a bigger role in maintaining political cohesiveness and stability."
Yeung Sum, Chairman of the Democratic Party, the major beneficiary of the recent show of people power, said on Monday that Hong Kong people shoud "push for a faster pace of democratization, including universal-suffrage elections of legislators and the chief executive."
Analysts say Beijing, which is anxious to contain the pace of liberalization in SAR politics, may interfere more actively to control local political development so as to prevent the "Hong Kong democratic disease" from spreading to other parts of China.