The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government announced its proposals on improving governance at the district level on Tuesday, under which the upcoming seventh-term district councils (DCs) will each be composed of those appointed by the government, those elected through the District Committees Constituency and District Council Geographical Constituencies, and ex-officio members, along with the introduction of an eligibility review mechanism and a monitoring mechanism of DC members’ performance.
Hong Kong society has learned some painful lessons from its 2019 extradition turmoil, which was made possible by the loopholes in the existing system. Those loopholes were ruthlessly exploited by anti-China agitators in an attempt to seize control of the governing power of the HKSAR. It was just at that critical juncture that the central authorities decisively promulgated the National Security Law for Hong Kong and initiated an overhaul of the HKSAR’s electoral system, effectively plugging the loopholes in national security and bringing “one country, two systems” onto the right path of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. When the proposals for improving governance at the district level are implemented, the revamp of Hong Kong’s governance structure will, by and large, be complete, which will be of great significance to the implementation of “one country, two systems” and the future development of the city.
DCs shouldn’t be a weak link in national security
District councils are organizations that are most relevant to the grassroots in Hong Kong’s political structure. Regrettably, the 2019 DC elections were hijacked by anti-China agitators. The majority of elected councilors not only failed to serve the grassroots but also abused the DCs by exploiting their resources to support the “black-clad” riots and advance secessionist agendas, wreaking much havoc on Hong Kong’s well-being and perverting the DCs from the functions enshrined in the Basic Law. There were numerous reported cases of district councilors blocking the presence of government officials at DC meetings, refusing to serve people with a political stance different from their own, and even rebuffing cooperation with the HKSAR government in undertaking the much-needed anti-pandemic measures against COVID-19. What these political saboteurs did seriously jeopardized Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and imperiled the course of “one country, two systems” in the city, with the entire Hong Kong population being the ultimate victims.
Taking into account the lessons learned in 2019, the DC reform proposals are premised on the principles of safeguarding national security, upholding “patriots administering Hong Kong”, and executive-led governance, which will restore the DCs’ original functions as stipulated in the Basic Law, upholding the “patriots administering Hong Kong” principle. With the exclusion of anti-China agitators from Hong Kong’s governance structure, national security in Hong Kong will be better ensured.
Diversified DCs will better serve the public
There are voices questioning the proposed diversification of DC composition. But diversified DCs will allow the access of people from different social strata, backgrounds and professions. In the past, district councilors typically were not very much concerned about district issues but politics. Now that Hong Kong has entered a new era of socioeconomic development, new issues are emerging surrounding community development. This explains why DCs need members from various backgrounds to help analyze and formulate policies from multiple perspectives.
There are also concerns about whether the appointed district councilors will be “out of touch” with the community they serve because of the lack of district work experience. As I see it, such worries are overstated as the government will take the appointees’ district work experience into consideration when making the appointment, and the monitoring mechanism proposed in the reform plan will prompt district councilors to do their best.
I hope all quarters of Hong Kong society will keep in mind (President Xi's) admonishment and stay united in supporting the DC reform, so as to keep the functions of DCs in line with the provisions of the Basic Law, and enable DCs to assist the HKSAR government in achieving good governance, better serving the public, and ensuring the steady and faithful implementation of “one country, two systems”
Optimizing DC functions by enhancing executive-led governance
Other highlights of the DC reform plan are the proposed establishment of a Steering Committee on District Governance, to be presided by Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki; the Task Force on District Governance, to be chaired by Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Warner Cheuk Wing-hing; and the appointment of district officers as DC chairpersons. Such arrangements will further strengthen executive-led governance and allow DCs to become genuine helpers of the HKSAR government not only in administration but also in bridging the communication between the administration and the local community.
In his speech marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of upholding Hong Kong’s executive-led governance system, furthering its economic development, improving the well-being of all residents, and striving to make the city a better place. Only by upholding executive-led governance can Hong Kong society gather strength from all quarters for major undertakings. The DC reform, therefore, is intended to strengthen executive-led governance, facilitating the HKSAR government to carry out policies to improve livelihoods and resolving deep-seated socioeconomic issues. This will optimize the functions of DCs, allowing residents to realize the relevance of good governance to their daily lives.
President Xi has emphasized on multiple occasions that Hong Kong cannot afford to be in chaos and disorder. I hope all quarters of Hong Kong society will keep in mind his admonishment and stay united in supporting the DC reform, so as to keep the functions of DCs in line with the provisions of the Basic Law, and enable DCs to assist the HKSAR government in achieving good governance, better serving the public, and ensuring the steady and faithful implementation of “one country, two systems”.
The author is the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and the secretary-general of the Hong Kong Coalition.
Source：China Daily ［2023-05-05］