The tenure of former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying may have proven a turbulent time for the city, but one British diplomat was convinced as far back as the 1990s that he had “all the attributes of a future chief executive”.
Declassified government documents from 1992 have revealed that Alan Paul, then a senior representative to a Sino-British liaison group planning for Hong Kong’s 1997 transfer of sovereignty, recommended London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office invite Leung for a meeting.
The papers were posted on the Facebook page of Chan Kim-ching, a Hong Kong activist and vocal Leung critic who has been in Britain to scour newly available documents at The National Archives.
In a letter dated January 16, 1992 to the Hong Kong department of the Foreign Office, Paul reported on a meeting with Leung over dim sum several days earlier.
The future leader was then a non-executive director of think tank the One Country Two Systems Institute, and had previously served as secretary general of the Basic Law Consultative Committee, a body set up to canvass views on drafts for Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
Paul wrote that he “was greatly struck by Leung’s personal qualities – bright, witty and open. He has excellent English and is an outstandingly good communicator. He clearly has a very bright future”.
“In any event, he looks very likely to play an important and influential role in the politics of Hong Kong after … 1997,” Paul wrote.
“Leung’s strength, it seems to me, lies in the fact that he has convincing Hong Kong credentials and yet clearly enjoys Beijing’s favour.”
But Chan said time had shown Paul’s judgments to be inaccurate.
“I suppose in general Hong Kong people, over these years during and after Leung’s service, have a rather different perspective,” Chan said.
Paul also wrote of how he had asked Leung about the prospects for dispelling suspicions between Britain and China.
“Whenever this question was put to Leung, his stomach turned over,” Paul said Leung had told him. “He was frankly not hopeful.”
On developments in Hong Kong’s legislature, Paul said Leung had told him “he accepted a degree of politicisation was inevitable, but it should not be allowed to get out of hand; it should not jeopardise the efficient running of Hong Kong”.
Leung became the city’s leader in 2012 after beating his main rival and Beijing favourite Henry Tang Ying-yen in what was considered the most divisive and scandal-plagued chief executive election since 1997.
But his time in office was marked by controversy. In 2014 Hong Kong’s streets erupted in student protests which lasted 79 days after Beijing imposed restrictions on plans for electoral reform to implement universal suffrage for the chief executive polls.
Leung did not seek re-election last year and was instead appointed a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s top political advisory body.