Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing has said he is a “very suitable” person to be the Chief Executive. He launched his election campaign on Thursday, criticising the incumbent Leung Chun-ying’s failure to address societal divisions.
“I have decided to participate in the election because I believe Hong Kong as a community has become too polarised and fragmented. Politically we have reached a stalemate,” he said.
Woo, 70, who has been a barrister and judge for the past 46 years, said his integrity and neutrality has never been in doubt.
“I do not think Mr. C.Y. Leung has been able to address public grievances and halt the division of our society to ensure that Hong Kong’s best overall interests are served. I have no political baggage and hence I am in a strong position to help assuage conflicts and dilemmas amongst different political parties and community groups to bring about a revamped, healthier and more united social-political environment.”
Last week, Woo completed his term as a deputy judge of the High Court. He was the first candidate to join the election race.
“I have not been in touch with the central government, I don’t have means to – can you teach me how?” he said when asked by reporters if he has contacted Beijing.
He said that he personally did not know Zhang Xiaoming, the director of China Liaison Office in Hong Kong, but he notified “some people” at the office of his intention to run between April and June this year.
“The information I received was that the central government had no response… not even ‘no comment’.”
Woo said that he had been considering the bid since the end of March: “Five years ago, people had announced it by September – what are they waiting for?” But he refused to comment on other rumoured candidates, as they had yet to make any announcement.
“I am not destined to lose,” he said. “I am looking forward to debates with potential candidates.”
Woo is not the first former judge to enter a Chief Executive race. Yang Ti-liang and Simon Li Fook-sean ran in 1996 but failed in their bids. Woo said that, as as a judge, he was used to listening to opinions from both sides, to find the most reasonable answer.
He did not directly reject the idea of civil nomination – the notion that Hongkongers should nominate Chief Executive candidates – even though Beijing’s decision in August 2014 stated that the candidates must be vetted by a nomination committee.
“You can say you want civil nomination, it’s ok – please find a two-thirds majority in Hong Kong to agree to change the law,” he said. “Our society is hugely split, we will never have a consensus… it’s benefitting some people who do not want change, we must have a consensus.”
Saving face for Beijing
He said the Chief Executive should make an “honest report” to the central government about opinions surrounding political reform in Hong Kong.
“Then the central government will know how to continue, there is no need to force [Beijing] to change [the 2014 decision],” he said.
He touched his face whilst speaking on the issue, suggesting that Hong Kong has to remain concerned about Beijing losing face.
Woo also questioned the account given by Lee Bo, a bookseller who went missing last year. He said that Lee claimed he was not kidnapped but had voluntarily returned to China – a claim Woo said was “very suspicious.”
Woo said, if he were the Chief Executive, he would have gone to Beijing and local provincial governments to ask for answers: “What’s happening? Let me know, let Hong Kong people not be frightened.”
Commenting on the relationship between Hong Kong and China, he said: “The central government, hopefully, will not ask me to implement a policy which affects the internal affairs of Hong Kong, because of One Country, Two Systems.”
“As a lawyer, I follow the law,” he added. “If the Chinese government were to ask me to do something against the law, I will tell them: that’s against the law, against the Basic Law… I’ll explain to them, either Hong Kong people will be very disappointed, they will be frightened, they may even immigrate.”
“The central government does not want us to die, that’s for sure. What’s the point of having a Hong Kong which is totally useless to them? Why? Give me a reason, why should they do it? Do they want to kill seven million people in Hong Kong? Of course not.”
He agreed that it was written in the Basic Law that Article 23 – Hong Kong’s ill-fated national security law – is a law that the territory’s government has a responsibility to enact. The legislation failed after a protest of unprecedented scale in 2003: “It hasn’t been done after 19 years, it is not very good.”
“There is nothing to worry about – incitement has been a part of common law,” he said. “Leaking national secrets, if you have done it, you are worthy [of punishment], in common law, treason, spying… there’s nothing to discuss.”
“In the UK, you throw a stone at the Queen, you have committed treason,” he added. “If you say you didn’t see the Queen, you thought it was Princess Anne, you still have committed treason. Are Hong Kong [laws] as strict as that?”
He said it would be better if the law was made under Hong Kong’s legal framework, with a consensus in society.
On the recent Hong Kong independence movement, he said it was “very serious.”
“Hong Kong independence is violating the constitution, it’s unfeasible,” he said. “But I have never met those people, I don’t know their political ideals, I would say publicly, I am eager to meet with them.”
Woo said he would not comment on the recent oath-taking controversy at the Legislative Council, since a court case is ongoing. But he said “it doesn’t look good” that the Chief Executive applied for a legal challenge – which gave the perception of the executive branch intervening in the legislature.
The last Chief Executive election in 2012 was filled with smear campaigns. When asked about the issue, Woo said he was not at all worried: “I don’t have any dirt, I don’t have a mistress.”
He said he could not remember all the scandals related to sitting Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but gave focus to the recent Wang Chau housing plan controversy.
“Leung originally said the Financial Secretary, who chaired a steering committee [on land supply] was responsible for the decision, but later at a press conference he himself took ultimate responsibility. What’s going on?” Woo asked.
The housing plan initially aimed to build 17,000 units, but 13,000 were later delayed after informal consultations with rural leaders.
“There were no records of the informal consultations, how can it be?” he said. “How could such an important decision not be recorded?”
“I think it must be explained, who would believe that?” he added.
On Thursday, Apple Daily cited sources as saying that Woo met Feng Wei, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, last month and Feng did not express support nor opposition to Woo’s run. Woo did not deny the report when asked on Thursday afternoon.
On a lighter note, Woo said he gave up smoking four years ago, and he is in good health as he can speak loudly and clearly at a press conference that lasted for around 90 minutes.
“I still found cigarettes very attractive, I am still worried about that,” he said.