By Chris Yeung —
It sounds unbelievable, verging on absurd. But the likelihood of a former chief executive, Leung Chun-ying of course, taking on the city’s current head, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the 2022 chief executive election just cannot be ruled out.
Frictions and rivalry, with a degree of subtlety between the pair have become remarkably obvious in the past few weeks, first, over the de-registration of a primary school teacher and , more recently, over President Xi Jinping’s new instruction over the development strategy of Shenzhen.
And in a clear challenge against the Lam administration’s targeted Covid-19 test policy, Leung has stepped up calls for a universal test among the 7.6 million people to help ensure the number of Covid-19 cases will be brought to zero.
Admittedly, Leung, who is widely understood to have been ordered by Beijing not to seek re-election in late 2016, has never faded from the political limelight since he stood down in 2017.
He set up two companies aimed to provide expertise on China’s Belt and Road strategy (apparently it is not yet dead) and the Greater Bay Area strategy. But little is known about their activities, nor people care about what Leung is up to.
Leung turned what the media coined as a “keyboard warrior” in the past two years, rolling up his sleeves to join the game of mud-slinging and finger-pointing on social media. According to a South China Morning Post report, he has boasted to have more than 180,000 followers on Facebook, his preferred social media platform. His posts have garnered thousands of “likes” regularly.
Emboldened by his followership on the Internet, he has turned on the attack mode in recent months. He raised eyebrows when he fired salvos against officials in the Lam administration.
One of his most popular posts involved attacks against Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung for his refusal of disclosing details of teachers who have been found of professional conduct by the Education Bureau.
In a highly unusual move, Leung has, through the 803 Fund being set up to offer rewards to hunt “national security offenders”, filed a judicial review against the bureau’s secrecy over details of those teachers.
Whether the case will go ahead is anybody’s guess. But he has already prompted Mrs Lam to respond by striking a teacher in a primary school in Kowloon Tong from the registry for allegedly spreading Hong Kong independence systematically at a Primary Five class.
At a press conference, she ridiculed the previous administration (referring to, but without naming, Leung’s) for being unwilling to bite the bullet over the qualification of teachers who had been found of misconduct, claiming she walked the talk by kicking the teacher out, thus making history.
The toughening of Mrs Lam towards teachers has not lessened the pressure from Leung for her to act tougher. In another offensive at a radio programme on Sunday, he claimed teachers might be one of the major sources of the “radical” behaviour of young people and teenagers.
Leung may have aimed to lay the blame onto teachers for having “contaminated” the minds of students, resulting in the large number of students being arrested during the anti-extradition bill protest.
But it is more like a shoot on his own foot because of the simple fact that students turned active in political activities when the Occupy Central broke out in 2014 during Leung’s reign.
The issue of teachers and Covid-19 test policy aside, Leung has also taken an aggressive approach in flying the flag of integration with Shenzhen and the Greater Bay Area as if he is commander of the “go-north” crusade.
The timing could not be more coincidental. Just a few days after Xi made a “southern tour” featuring a big boost to the role of Shenzhen as an “engine” of China’s economic growth, both Leung and Mrs Lam were quick to harp on the theme of Hong Kong-Shenzhen integration.
On Sunday, Leung moved to enlighten the citizens how to decipher the speech of Xi at the 40th anniversary celebrations in Shenzhen.
On Monday, two pro-Beijing newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Hong Kong Commercial Daily, and the Hong Kong Economic Times published an interview with Mrs Lam, who again talked at length about the vital importance of integration with the mainland.
When asked about a proposal of reclamation of land in the neighbouring mainland waters, she cited Xi’s priority given to environmental protection to say the idea would not be accepted.
Leung has sought to show he has and will continue to make sure Xi’s words do not fall onto deaf ears. In the interview with SCMP, Leung cited a Chinese proverb Xi has used in his 2017 visit to Hong Kong, “it is a shame for an official to avoid responsibilities”, to justify his uncompromising approach in giving those who evaded responsibilities a hard time.
Asked by a reporter whether he was now considering a run for the top job, Leung said: “I don’t have such a plan at present, but I will keep my interest in Hong Kong politics, given my experience.”
It is still early to say whether he will run again after a break he did not ask for. There is little doubt, though, he will not give an easy time to Mrs Lam as long as she is in power.
This article was first published on Apple Daily on October 21.