When it comes to performance reviews, timing is important. So when Hong Kong’s chief executive spoke in Beijing today about Hong Kong residents “giving more importance to social harmony,” he wasn’t completely exaggerating. Things are now pretty smooth, especially when compared with the turbulence of 2003. That was the year Hong Kong was rocked by SARS, an economic downturn and massive demonstrations against a proposed security law. The leadership in Hong Kong and Beijing must be relieved that Hong Kong could pull things together in time for the global spotlight to return this year, the 10th anniversary of the handover to Chinese rule.
There are of course plenty of disputes over issues like how to protect Hong Kong’s environment and historic landmarks in the face of rapid development. But it’s the future of the territory’s political system that has the greatest potential to shake the harmony that Chinese leaders so badly crave. Some time within the next month or so the government will issue a report outlining three general options for bringing full democracy to Hong Kong. Tsang has made 60% public support the target for any measure that he will push forward. But Hong Kong’s desire for full democracy is strong, and it is likely that more than one proposal will surpass the 60% barrier. He admitted as much in a recent interview. Earlier this week a poll by Hong Kong University indicated that 57% of the population supports a proposal by the pan-democrats on choosing the next Chief Executive. Tsang will be forced to choose which plan he backs from several equally popular proposals. The task of explaining why one is better than the other will not be easy. And the stakes are high. Tsang, in a notably poor choice of words, said he would find a “final solution” for bringing full democracy to Hong Kong. Whether he can match that pledge or not will be the performance review that really matters.