Saturday, 14 May 2016

Zhang Dejiang to Try to Diffuse Tensions

Zhang Dejiang will be coming to Hong Kong this week
Hong Kong is getting ready for senior Chinese official Zhang Dejiang's three-day visit to the city starting on Tuesday.

First off -- there's going to be tons of security especially around the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong where he is staying -- some three times the number of police deployed for previous sitting premiers and presidents.

And then by the Legislative Council building, where workers have even glued down the bricks on the sidewalk to prevent anyone from trying to recreate the Mongkok riots that happened on Chinese New Year day.

Tight security will be in and around the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
There was also the awkward invitation of the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to meet with pan-democrats -- but only four of them, and only at a pre-banquet cocktail. Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, Civic Party leader Alan Leong Wah-kit, Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan and health services lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long were the ones selected.

At first Ho refused to attend because she apparently felt a cocktail party was not the right venue to meet, and it seemed like the meeting was an afterthought.

However she has since changed her mind, because while it's not the best situation to meet Zhang, it's one of the few chances to actually speak to him directly.

And now we are hearing Beijing is trying to hire a global public relations firm to help give Zhang an image makeover to give the impression his visit isn't a kowtowing exercise.

The companies apparently in the running are Hill & Knowlton (who consulted Beijing with the 2008 Summer Olympics), Ketchum, Ogilvy Public Relations, FleishmanHillard and Edelman.

Pan-democrat Cyd Ho will meet with Zhang... briefly
A representative from FleishmanHillard suggested Zhang should be more open and explain how the "One Belt, One Road" initiative will benefit Hong Kong economically, and stress how China is committed to Hong Kong's Basic Law.

Nevertheless, some political PR consultants here think Zhang's visit is "almost mission impossible", to use PR stunts to make Zhang look more acceptable to Hong Kong people.

The former spin doctor for former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Andy Ho On-tat, says: "The tense relation between Hong Kong and Beijing has its roots in Beijing's decision [in 2014] to impose a restrictive framework for Hong Kong's political development.

"Unless Mr Zhang has something like the decision delivered on August 31 [2014] will be reversed, any public relations stunts, be it a walkabout in town, shaking hands with people, or hugging babies, are doomed to be useless."

Ouch. But true.

Peter Lam Yuk-wah, another political consultant was similarly pessimistic. "With the heavy deployment of police, it would defeat any attempt to soften Mr Zhang's image, or use crowds to show he is popular."

He has a point there, but seems like the Hong Kong government and police don't want to take any chances when it comes to Zhang's safety.

We wonder what the localists have planned for Zhang's visit, or do they even care to voice their displeasure? Tight security does not give the impression he is accessible, or even friendly.

If his keynote speech at the Belt and Road Summit is full of the usual phrases, it will only demonstrate his lack of understanding of Hong Kong and prove the State Council is clueless when it comes to dealing with the city and its frustrations, social, political and economic.

It's not easy when the emperor is far away...

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