City Beat

Hong Kong elections and Hangzhou summit could reveal clues about Beijing’s attitude towards city

One potential chief executive candidate, John Tsang, is in Hangzhou for the G20 summit – and he is ready to talk to mainland officials if given the chance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 7:33pm

What a super busy weekend for reporters in town, with two major events on the same day – Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections and the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

The former is a bigger deal for the local media as the result could be a key reference for Beijing to decide on the city’s next leader.

Of course it’s still too early to get a clear picture of Beijing’s intentions at this stage, as the G20, the biggest summit ever held in China so far, is apparently the top priority. Hosting the G20 means China has now become a “rule maker” in the global economy. Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said earlier that China would work closely with world leaders to achieve the goal of raising the G20’s GDP by at least 2 per cent by 2018.

But there are those watching the events in Hangzhou for any clue on Hong Kong’s leadership race, given that Beijing is likely to make a decision on its preference by the end of this month – at the soonest. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is in Hangzhou too, attending the finance ministers’ session as a member of the Chinese delegation.

The reason is simple: after Sunday’s Legco polls, another major political showdown is round the corner – the 2017 chief executive election.

Some of the latest developments can be quite telling. That’s why some see Tsang’s presence in Hangzhou as not only an opportunity for him to further socialise with the nation’s top finance officials and their counterparts from other countries, but also a chance to bump into President Xi Jinping, all of which could prove beneficial to his future political prospects.

Tsang, who is widely seen as a possible challenger to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for the top job, already seems to have taken the G20 as a good excuse for more publicity, albeit in a delicate and cautious manner. This time it was RTHK that he picked for a one-on-one interview before heading to Hangzhou. He talked about Hong Kong’s role at the global summit, but also told the public broadcaster that he would have to consider many factors before making up his mind on whether to join the leadership race.

He said he would be more than happy, if asked, to brief “the state leaders and other [mainland] officials” on the latest in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, another possible “dark horse”, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is keeping herself busy, especially by promoting poverty relief efforts, one of her pet projects. But one little episode that many appear to have missed was quite interesting. She told the audience during the welcoming banquet she hosted for China’s Olympics medallists returning from the Rio Games that she once took care of sports policies and was not a stranger in the field.

Indeed, when she was the permanent secretary for home affairs, sports was on her plate. It might have been a remark aimed only at putting the athletes at ease, but it could also send out the subtle message that she is an all-rounder in terms of policy making. Understandably, expertise in government operations will surely be a plus for anyone who is interested in the top job.

As for the incumbent chief executive, the latest twist to the Sing Pao newspaper saga could be a double-edged sword for him in any bid for a second term, as it may or may not prompt Beijing’s backing.

The traditionally pro-establishment paper shocked the whole town by launching a fierce attack on Leung and Beijing’s liaison office last week. The drama then took a surprise twist when the newspaper’s boss, Gu Zhuoheng, was reported to be a fugitive wanted in a global manhunt initiated by Shenzhen police over allegations of illegal soliciting of public deposits. Gu denied it in an angry rebuttal, stating that he was the target of “political revenge attacks” by “certain powers” whom he did not identify.

While details of this blow-up remain unclear, it serves as a reminder that the city’s leadership race is unlikely to avoid political mudslinging, which can be detrimental to the city as a whole.

But it will certainly keep reporters busy.