Maybe it's time for Donald Tsang to step back and relax

Missing out on CPPCC job may be a pity for the ex-chief executive, but his options are plentiful

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 4:40am

Take a step back and you will see the vastness of the sky and the boundlessness of the sea," goes an ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps the equivalent of the English saying, "when God closes a door, He opens a window".

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a staunch Catholic, may have a fresh understanding of these two phrases after he missed out on a place in China's top political advisory body recently.

The omission of Tsang's name from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's list of new members may also serve to remind him of the cruel reality of politics: that nothing can be taken for granted.

Speculation that Tsang would, like his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa, become a CPPCC vice-chairman had been circulating since his term of office ended last year.

But unlike Tung, whom Beijing saw as having positively contributed to the "one country, two systems" principle, general opinion on whether Tsang should get a post that would elevate him to "state leader" status was more divided.

The reasons Tsang missed out on the job are both complex and understandable.

One of the most-discussed issues is that he remains under an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation for allegedly accepting advantages from tycoons during his tenure.

And some CPPCC veterans say Hong Kong is too small to have two CPPCC vice-chairmen.

Tsang, in an apparent attempt to save face and rebut rumours that he was rejected, issued a statement after the list was made known. He said it was he who turned down Beijing's offer of a "senior post" on the CPPCC, citing the ICAC probe as his main concern.

Another factor that may have weighed against Tsang's appointment is his British knighthood. His failure to give up the colonial-era honour is seen by some Beijing loyalists as a lack of political sensitivity.

And when it came to comparing which former chief executive was better suited for appointment to the CPPCC, many believed Tung to be the better candidate.

Tung has long established himself as China's top lobbyist to the US, with his family's strong ties to the US and his role as trusted adviser on Sino-US affairs to incoming president Xi Jinping .

But while lacking in Tung's strong US connections, Tsang possesses rich experience in governance, which, in the right role, can help him achieve more for the city and the nation.

There is, after all, far more that a retired chief executive can do than to remain in politics.

Other former senior officials who missed out on CPPCC membership have gone on to other things, like former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who now plays a significant role in linking China and the West as head of investment firm Blackstone's Greater China division.

In 2007, Tsang had said that his occupation was being a politician. Perhaps it's time for him to change it to "retiree".

Surely there are still many interesting, meaningful activities out there for him to engage in while enjoying a relaxing lifestyle - a luxury most other politicians can hardly afford.