A rural strongman says he will support the son of “King of the New Territories” Lau Wong-fat, who passed away on Sunday.

For 35 years since 1980, Lau was the chair of the powerful rural body Heung Yee Kuk. Amid declining health, he stepped down and was replaced by his son, Kenneth Lau, two years ago.

Lau Wong-fat.
Lau Wong-fat.

On Monday morning, the Kuk’s executive councillor Hau Chi-keung told reporters that the Kuk’s various members were united, and would not be leaderless following Lau’s death.

“The 27 rural committees have a very respectful attitude towards the Kuk – their attitude is very united,” said the Sheung Shui-based rural leader. “In the future we will have to rely on the leadership of our new chairperson.”

Asked on Commercial Radio whether any future Kuk chairperson would serve as long as Lau did, Hau said it would depend on whether the individual was interested in doing so, and whether political circumstances would allow for it.

“As far as I know, everyone has a lot of respect for the new chair [Kenneth Lau],” he added. “I support him a lot.”

Hau Chi-keung.

“Over the past year, everyone can see that our chairperson Lau junior has been constantly improving.”

‘Strongman’ politics to continue

On the same Commercial Radio programme, pro-democracy New Territories West legislator Eddie Chu said that the late Kuk chairperson held a great deal of unofficial influence. A prominent rural conservationist before he was elected as a legislator, Chu recalled that Lau would invite villagers who were seeking his assistance for breakfast, and immediately help them arrange meetings with officials or companies.

Chu added that Lau used his influence to help residents of Tsoi Yuen village – levelled in 2010 to make way for the construction of the nationwide high-speed railway – rebuild a new village, as the Kuk took on many responsibilities of the Hong Kong government.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick protest wang chau november
Eddie Chu. File photo: InMediaHK.

“From this we could see that power in the New Territories isn’t exercised through official channels, but through influence,” said Chu. “It is strongman-dominated politics. We all obey whoever calls the shots. Everybody across the different levels obeys the strongman.”

Chu said that the New Territories’ “strongman” culture will not change after Lau’s death, but added that the Kuk has lost its ultimate leader: “So now, when any of the rural committees face a problem, their own leaders will have to solve it.”

Sheung Shui leader Hau downplayed the influence of strongmen in New Territories politics when speaking to Commercial Radio, saying that similar influential leaders existed elsewhere in the world.

“In Russia, there’s a strongman culture with [President Vladimir] Putin,” said Hau. “The leader of our country [Xi Jinping] has some of this culture too. It’s the same everywhere around the world.”

kenneth lau ip keung
Kenneth Lau. File photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

On Sunday, Yuen Long strongman Leung Fuk-yuen told RTHK that Lau’s greatest achievement in his lifetime was to include a clause in the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – protecting the “lawful traditional rights and interests” of indigenous villagers in the New Territories.

See also: Explainer: Hong Kong’s divisive Small House Policy

“He toiled for over half a century to help the New Territories, developing it into a satellite city [of urban Hong Kong],” said Leung.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.