By Tu Haiming
At a press conference following the conclusion of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping declared that the CPC is committed to bettering the lives of the people. Since then, the “people-centric” governance philosophy began to take shape and is underpinned by the tenet of “development for the people”, meaning relying on the people and benefiting the people.
Hong Kong is also embracing a “people-oriented” governance philosophy similar to the “people-centric” governance philosophy that is now taking root on the mainland. In articulating his vision and aspiration in his policy platform, chief executive-designate John Lee Ka-chiu emphasized the need to further socioeconomic development by relying on the residents and for the benefit of the residents. There are conceivably high odds of Lee’s “people-oriented” governance philosophy winning Hong Kong society’s full support, which will in turn inject an impetus into the city’s socioeconomic development.
Further development is the only perceivable solution to enhancing the well-being of residents by narrowing the wealth gap and tackling other deep-seated problems. The black-clad riots in 2019 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have brought tremendous hardships to Hong Kong people both psychologically and economically, aggravating the city’s longstanding social problems.
Lee must have struck a chord with many Hong Kong residents and allowed them to see the light at the end of the tunnel when he told the media earlier that the government must not only do what it thinks is right but also do what people want the government to do the most. His words echoed earlier remarks of Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, who said “patriots should be good at serving the people, prioritizing the benefits of the people, addressing the community’s pressing needs and resolving critical issues besetting the general populace” when particularizing the “patriots administering Hong Kong” precept.
The four major goals Lee articulated in his manifesto — which include strengthening governance capability and tackling pressing livelihood issues, streamlining procedures and providing more housing and better living conditions, enhancing overall competitiveness and pursuing sustainable development, and building a caring and inclusive society as well as enhancing upward mobility for the youth — are precisely what the Hong Kong community desperately wants the SAR government to achieve. These goals demonstrate Lee’s commitment to prioritize Hong Kong residents’ needs and well-being, aligning with the country’s “people-centric” governance philosophy.
Of course, it is not the chief executive’s sole responsibility to meet the needs of Hong Kong residents; every principal official and the entire 180,000 civil servants must play their part. For a long time, many civil servants have used “political neutrality” as an excuse for their slothful administration or inaction. Their failure to meet the pressing needs of the community has given rise to public grievances over the years. This was particularly evident in the early days of the omicron wave of the COVID-19 outbreak when all sorts of administrative flaws marring the anti-pandemic effort were exposed. It’s high time to rectify all those maladies, small and big. As civil servants are employed by the SAR government, they should follow its governance philosophy and take orders from the chief executive to better serve the public. They still have a long way to go in this regard.
The “people-oriented” approach inevitably relies on the people as the source of strength for advancing socioeconomic development. It embodies the full respect for the people, their wishes, their rights and their role.
In expounding on his policy platform, Lee attached importance to the team spirit between the government, the general public and all sectors of the community in jointly resolving the problems besetting Hong Kong. The said “team spirit” illustrates the concept of “relying on the people”, the requisite ingredient for clearing up the intricate deep-seated issues accumulated over the years.
For example, Hong Kong’s housing problem is rooted in its land-supply shortage, which in turn has been largely caused by the dynamic of the vested interests, who have created layers of shackles on land supply. There is no master key that can open every shackle; the SAR government must formulate both a master plan and a set of bespoke solutions for meaningfully augmenting land supply. It requires the wisdom and support of all sectors of the community to create a solution for each specific problem.
Building a caring and inclusive society will also require the input of grassroots who are well-informed about the pain points as well as the pragmatic solutions. The administration may not have the brightest brain; it therefore must be open-minded and visionary so as to make sound judgments based on the input of the general populace.
President Xi has pointed out that the Chinese dream, which is essentially the dream of the people, can be achieved only by leveraging the people. By the same token, Hong Kong needs to leverage its residents to achieve greater success.
The politicization of every issue by the subversive elements was no doubt the main cause of the alienation of some Hong Kong residents from the SAR government. But administrative inefficiency has also contributed to it. Many residents were aggrieved by the long queue for public housing, the widening wealth gap, and the increasingly severe social stratification.
In his election manifesto, Lee made it clear that he aspires to bring real benefits to the residents. Hence, his governance philosophy is an isotope of the central government’s “people-centric” concept. What his governing team should do is to turn ideas into policies and produce results. As President Xi put it, the effectiveness of any initiative must be judged on the basis of whether the people have genuinely benefited from it and whether their standard of living has improved because of it.
The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of Bauhinia Magazine