At an exhibition in Beijing to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover, Vice-President Xi Jinping praised outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen for his leadership and contributions towards the city over the past seven years. Xi is a leading central government official in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs. His evaluation of Tsang and praise for him were fair and just.
Since the chief executive election in March, when most people believed the focus would be on the transition of power, Tsang has faced a barrage of criticism over his close links with tycoons. Most baffling is that the negative publicity seems to have increased as his term draws to a close. Why is there a need to stir public sentiment against him? What's the value of attacking him so ferociously?
Most of the negative reports concern his personal integrity; portraying him as a corrupt official and fanning the anti-rich and powerful sentiment at a time when the wealth gap is driving a wedge between the haves and have-nots. The political objective is clear - to disregard his achievements and, ultimately, discredit those central government officials who supported him.
In the end, Beijing came to acknowledge Tsang's unrelenting efforts to maintain stability, prosperity and long-term development. No one can deny his contributions if the evaluation is based on facts and logic. Tsang fulfilled more than 120 tasks and policy objectives in his seven years. He was unable to fulfil only three policy objectives - to reduce profits tax, improve air quality and implement the fair competition legislation.
It is true the wealth gap has worsened and income disparity has reached a four-decade high. But this problem is not unique to Hong Kong. Over the past five years, Tsang allocated some HK$20 billion to address poverty. Following this redistribution of wealth, tax rebates and welfare rises, the income disparity is no different from when he took over. He also introduced the minimum wage to improve the quality of life for low-income workers. This helped bring the unemployment rate to a new low of 3.2 per cent; definitely one of his biggest successes.
His other major achievement is maintaining a stable economy. Hong Kong managed to sail through the global financial crisis in 2008 and overcome many financial difficulties. During the hard times, Tsang promoted policies that supported small and medium-sized enterprises and stabilised the property and stock markets. The introduction of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and the policy to allow individual mainland travellers to visit the city in 2006 breathed new life into the economy. Before Tsang took over, Hong Kong faced a deficit budget year after year. He turned the situation around.
Of course, without the extensive support from Beijing, Hong Kong would not be where it is today. As Tsang's good friend, it is difficult for me to appear fair when weighing up his achievements and failures. I think it is best to wait until the new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has been in power for a while in order to do an objective comparison.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. From next week, his two weekly columns will be combined and will appear on Fridays