New leaders, new expectations

New South Korean President Moon Jae In faces the challenging task of dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat.
New South Korean President Moon Jae In faces the challenging task of dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Asia News Network commentators ponder what lies ahead for South Korea and Hong Kong as two new leaders - Mr Moon Jae In and Mrs Carrie Lam - take the reins. Here are excerpts:

Moon Jae In faces a battery of tests

Editorial The Nation

Newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae In faces an enormous challenge in governing one of the world's most democratic and dynamic countries. Obviously, the first issue he has to tackle is the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear ambitions and a leader who seeks to hold the world hostage. In fact, Mr Moon already has held out an olive branch to Pyongyang by saying that, as the South's leader, he would seek more dialogue with the North, even while remaining firm on security. Such determinations are to be expected from any new leader, given the tense situation on the peninsula.

Dealing with the North will require great delicacy. Mr Moon's predecessor, Park Geun Hye, chose to adopt a tough stand on all matters related to the North. During her tenure - before being brought down by a corruption scandal - she also maintained a strong position against Japan. Ties with China have recently deteriorated because her government arranged to have an American anti-missile system installed, a process now under way. Mr Moon is in a position to improve all of these conditions and relationships, but the path is entirely uphill.

Relations between South Korea and Japan are among the most important bilateral ties in Asia and cannot remain chilled. The two nations are the United States' most reliable allies in the region. Their recent bickering over historical and other issues has drained the alliance of much of its vitality.

Mr Moon will not be able to easily step backwards regarding the US-installed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile-interception system, despite his campaign pledge to block the installation so that relations with neighbouring countries could be improved. Beijing will require considerable calming if the system remains in place. If it cannot be appeased, economic relations will continue to suffer. In recent years, South Korea's economic growth has depended on trade with China.

New South Korean President Moon Jae In faces the challenging task of dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The new president must also pay heed to Asean. Under Park, the bloc's relations with South Korea went from strength to strength. She saw South-east Asia as a growth area for trade and investment and revitalised bilateral ties. It is imperative that Mr Moon improves these ties further. One area in need of attention is mutual security and strategy, to which Seoul has paid insufficient attention. Japan has, meanwhile, expanded its security interests among members of Asean as never before. As part of the emerging regional architecture, South Korea - its concerns over North Korea notwithstanding - should not shy away from South-east Asia.

South Korea has a considerable advantage over other Asian giants because it possesses an abundance of soft power, which generates goodwill and admiration throughout this part of the world. As a mid-sized power, Seoul must engage with the region in all dimensions. After all, the peril emanating from the situation on the Korean peninsula is no longer directed only at North-east Asian countries. If there is to be armed conflict of any kind, the impact will be felt across the entire region.

How will Hong Kong fare under Carrie Lam?

Frank Ching The China Post

With only weeks to go before Mrs Carrie Lam is sworn in as the chief executive of Hong Kong, attention naturally is focused on how she is going to govern and the role the Chinese government will play.

The head of legal affairs of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Mr Wang Zhenmin, recently warned that Hong Kong should not try to change the election system in the next five to 10 years.

The incoming chief executive seems to agree. After all, sensitive political issues do not lend themselves to easy resolution and are likely to exacerbate tensions rather than promote harmony.

There is also Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to pass national security legislation.

So Mrs Lam is in a difficult situation. Democrats are likely to press for political reform, while the pro-establishment camp will call for national security legislation. Either move will increase polarisation within the society and make it harder to focus on livelihood issues.

Hong Kong has gone through several highly politicised years, what with the 2014 decision being followed by Occupy Central and, now, prosecutions of key figures involved in those activities.

The Chinese government is likely to press for more prosecutions and harsher sentences which, if successful, will result in turbulence in Hong Kong. If the Lam administration wants to depoliticise the atmosphere, it should seek Chinese help to lower rather than amplify political tensions.

As for the democrats, they must keep the big picture in mind, which must certainly be the welfare of Hong Kong. Preventing the new administration from doing what it can to improve the livelihood of the people makes little sense.

With the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover on July 1 approaching, it is natural to consider the historical perspective. Looking back, it must be said that China deserves great credit for deciding in 1984, when it initialled the Joint Declaration, that the legislature would be constituted by elections, and in 1990, when the Basic Law was promulgated, that the chief executive would ultimately be chosen through universal suffrage. Not surprisingly, the implementation has not been smooth. In 2007, China agreed that universal suffrage elections could take place this year.

Then, in 2014, China's National People's Congress spelt out just how such an election would be held. Under its rules, candidates would have to be nominated by over 50 per cent of an Election Committee largely under Beijing's influence, which could mean that no democrat would ever be nominated.

For there to be any likelihood of progress in the future, Beijing needs to indicate that the 2014 formula is not set in stone and that, some time in the future, it would be willing to consider a more liberal model.

An indication of such a policy would remove a major objection to the 2014 formula.

The earlier Beijing gives such an indication, the better the prospects of success for the governance of the Lam administration. If Beijing refuses to provide any indication of flexibility, Hong Kong may be facing five more years of fruitless strife and Beijing-orchestrated crackdowns.


Pragmatic, economy-first approach a winning option

Zhou Bajun China Daily

There are two contrasting opinions regarding priorities in Hong Kong governance in the next five years. One insists the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government must restart the constitutional reform and push it through until universal suffrage is achieved. The other maintains that Hong Kong must focus on economic development and improving the public well-being instead.

First, we can agree that constitutional development, economic transformation and improving people's livelihood are all major challenges facing Hong Kong that demand proper resolution at an early date. That said, in the next five years, Hong Kong will not have the necessary conditions to relaunch constitutional reform aimed at implementing universal suffrage, but it can continue with the structural transformation of its economy that will help improve people's livelihood.

Obviously, opposition parties have to keep talking about restarting constitutional reform, because it is the only political talking point they think might win public support. That is why they must stop the fifth-term SAR government from giving priority to economic development and improving people's well-being.

Obstruction by the opposition will no doubt make it harder for the SAR government to formulate and implement policies designed to boost economic development and improve people's livelihood, but it is not insurmountable.

First, the pro-establishment parties as a whole will support the government. Certain establishment parties and political figures may have been influenced by the chief executive election in March, but they will not abandon the pro-establishment camp. They will support the SAR government somehow, as long as they feel obliged to remain on board.

Second, the opposition camp will continue splintering. The radical opposition faction will remain committed to filibustering in the Legislative Council because it is the only way they know to win over certain voters. But among the mainstream opposition parties, the Democratic Party has shown some slight reluctance to support filibustering but the Civic Party's attitude remains ambiguous.

Third, a very important fact to note is that more and more Hong Kong residents are demanding all parties concerned put aside their political differences and focus on the economy and people's livelihood. That is why the mainstream media should help build popular consensus on such issues.

• The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'New leaders, new expectations'. Subscribe