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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March 2005, 10:01 GMT
Hong Kong looks to life after Tung
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Hong Kong

So the waiting is over. Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa has put an end to the rumours and thrown in the towel.

Assuming the Chinese leadership accepts the resignation - which is now seen as a formality - his deputy, Donald Tsang, takes over as acting chief executive.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa waves as he leaves Hong Kong government headquarter Wednesday March. 9, 2005
Mr Tung's departure has fuelled new debate about the future

But what happens next? And perhaps more importantly, what do the events of the last few days tell us about who is really in charge in Hong Kong?

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, a new chief executive has to be selected within six months.

That task falls to an election committee whose 800 members are largely loyal to Beijing.

The term of office of the current committee runs out on 13 July. The election has to be held on a Sunday and the law allows for 120 days of campaigning, so most people assume the election will be held on 10 July.

If it is any later, a new election committee would be needed.

Who would like to run against a sure winner when Beijing has already given him their blessing?
Democrat Martin Lee
Professor Joseph Cheng from City University in Hong Kong said the man tasked with running that election, Donald Tsang, was also the front-runner to win it.

"He is perceived to be a competent civil servant. He has been rated very high in terms of popularity among all the senior officials of the Tung administration," he said.

"People believe that because he is a career civil servant, he will be more neutral [than Mr Tung was] in dealing with the various business groups".

The veteran democrat Martin Lee believes it is unlikely any credible candidate will come forward to challenge Mr Tsang.

"Anyone who has a chance of running and winning the election, would not run. Who would like to run against a sure winner when Beijing has already given him their blessing,?" he said.

Beijing's risk

But some here believe the Beijing authorities may be cautious about giving Mr Tsang a full five-year term, preferring to interpret the Basic Law as requiring Mr Tung's successor only to complete the remaining two years of Mr Tung's term of office before holding a new election in 2007.

There is a risk though. If Mr Tsang is given only two years, other potential candidates in the administration or the business community who are thinking of running against him in 2007 might be unwilling to co-operate with him now, or might even try to sabotage his rule.

So what are Beijing's reservations about Mr Tsang, if he is only to be given a two year term?

Well, he was a former colonial civil servant in the British administration which ran Hong Kong before the handover. He was knighted by the Queen. He is also a devout Roman Catholic.

These factors might be enough to make some in the Chinese leadership suspicious about his loyalty, though he has worked hard to establish his credentials as a good Chinese official.
Donald Tsang listens to lawmakers debate at Hong Kong's Legislative chamber Wednesday March. 9, 2005.
Mr Tsang is a career diplomat who has worked hard to prove his loyalty

But as Mr Tung discovered, loyalty to Beijing may not be enough.

Despite reports that Mr Tung is resigning due to stress and ill health, some analysts in Hong Kong believe he was sacked by China because he was seen as weak and unpopular.

This is the view of political commentator Steven Vines.

"I think the real lesson of all this is that the government in Beijing has demonstrated very clearly that they hold not only ultimate power but that they are prepared to exercise it," he said.

"If they are prepared to dismiss the most senior official in Hong Kong without any consultation with Hong Kong people whatsoever, it tells you that promises made to Hong Kong by the former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping really don't mean a great deal."

'Sham' autonomy

Mr Deng promised Britain, before the territory was handed back to China, that Hong Kong would be given a high degree of autonomy to run its own affairs. He called it 'One Country, Two Systems'.

"There's no longer Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, there's no longer a high degree of autonomy," said Martin Lee.

"If you ask me, 'Is there still one country two systems?' I would say, 'Yes'. There is a much larger system, which is the mainland ruled by [Chinese President] Hu Jintao and [Chinese Premier] Wen Jiabao," he said.

"Then there is the much smaller system of Hong Kong, but it is now ruled by [Chinese Vice-President] Zeng Qinghong, so if you like, that is still 'one country two systems' but Hong Kong is now ruled by different members of the same Communist Party."

Professor Joseph Cheng agreed. After all, he says, under the current system Hong Kong itself only has a limited input into the selection of the next chief executive.

Arguments about how long Mr Tung's replacement should serve, for instance, will be decided in Beijing.

"It is obvious that we will not have the opportunity to discuss the issue of political reforms in detail for the election of the third-term chief executive and beyond," the professor said.

"Whatever arrangements are to be followed, it is obvious that there is no room for Hong Kong people to play any part in deciding our future," he said.

Tung's fate shows Beijing's sway
02 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
HK papers welcome Tung rumours
02 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Tung Chee-hwa: Beijing's man in HK
02 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong leader 'to step down'
02 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
HK's Tung joins top China body
28 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
HK leader denies Chinese scolding
20 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Regions and territories: Hong Kong
08 Feb 05 |  Country profiles


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