Leung Chun-ying

Man whose words may speak louder than legal actions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 4:23am

One of the most influential political columnists in Hong Kong, Joseph Lian Yi-zheng is no stranger to controversy. Now his latest row with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying could serve to prove just how influential his column is among the political elite.

The 61-year-old economist was born and raised in the city until he left for the United States to complete his higher education in the late 1960s.

He completed his PhD in economics at the University of Minnesota, and developed his academic career in the US.

More than three decades after he left the city, he returned in 1992 as a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Three years later, he joined the finance-based Hong Kong Economic Journal as chief editor following an invitation by the paper's co-founder Lam Shan-muk - commonly known by his pen name Lam Hang-chi. That kicked off his career as a political columnist, and his analysis - usually combining statistics and original observations - won a following among politicians and intellectuals.

He soon drew the attention of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

In 1998, Lian was invited to join the Central Policy Unit as one of three full-time members. But since 2003 and his attendance at several pro-democracy demonstrations, his relations with the government's top ranks have soured.

Days after he attended the July 1 rally in 2004, he was told to leave the government think tank - more than two months before his contract was due to expire. No reason was given. He later revealed that despite being one of the top government advisers, he had not had a meeting with Tung for two years.

In a surprise move, he then left for the UK to learn to sail - and also finished a book about his experiences in the policy unit. In it, he criticises the pro-Beijing mindset in Tung's regime.

In 2007, Lian returned to the Hong Kong Economic Journal as the paper's chief columnist, before turning part-time in 2010. During the short tenure, he and Leung had a war of words over the then Executive Council convenor's close relations with the Communist Party.

He joined the Akita International University in Japan last year, teaching economics.