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Wang Chau housing saga

The different backgrounds of Hong Kong’s top officials embroiled in Wang Chau scandal

Contrasts between CY Leung and John Tsang not just in their backgrounds, but also increasingly in their views

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 6:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 6:00pm

The city’s top two officials embroiled in the Wang Chau housing saga could not have come from more different backgrounds.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, 62, had risen to prominence quickly in the business world after graduating from Bristol Polytechnic. Upon his return to Hong Kong in 1977, he worked at British real estate firm Jones Lang Wootton and by the age of 30, was the vice-chairman of the company’s branch in the city.

His first prominent role in po­litics came in 1988 when the then 34-year-old was named secretary-general of the Basic Law Consultative Committee.

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After the handover, he was appointed as an executive councillor and later became convenor of the cabinet.

On November 28, 2011, Leung officially announced his bid for the chief executive post, which he won after defeating early favourite Henry Tang Ying-yen.

In contrast with Leung who had not worked in the government before taking up the top job, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has had a long career in the civil service.

Tsang worked in the United States’ Boston Public Schools before returning to Hong Kong in 1982. As a member of the Administrative Service, he took on a number of civil service posts. After the city’s return to China, Tsang, 65, served as director-general of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, among other positions. The veteran civil servant has been financial secretary since July 1, 2007.

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Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said it was very likely the move to appoint Tsang as financial secretary was made by the central government. He said: “Since Leung did not have anyone specialising in finance in his team ... Tsang became the one the central government could trust to manage the city’s finances.”

Even before the Wang Chau saga, Tsang was widely compared with his more staid, and sometimes bellicose, boss. But he has long been reluctant to give the impression of his being at loggerheads with the city’s leader.

In 2013, Tsang was hit on the head by an egg thrown by a protester at a town hall meeting. Leung condemned it but the financial minister told the crowd: “My doctor has told me not to eat too many eggs. Luckily I’m not wearing a good suit today.”

Yet despite the fact that much of his rhetoric was still veiled in his signature sense of humour, Tsang has become increasingly more willing to express views strikingly different from Leung’s, as speculations about his joining the chief executive race gain momentum.

Last year, the Asia qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup became a politicised affair as the Hong Kong team came face to face with the mainland just as a localist faction was gaining traction in the city.

Leung came under fire for ducking a question about which team he would back, merely saying he could not watch the game as he would be in Manila. But Tsang, who was also out of town, posted a picture of himself watching the match on a tablet with the caption: “Exciting match!”

He later also put a positive spin on the rise of localism, suggesting such sentiments could become a strong and constructive force binding society together – a stark contrast to the hardline tone taken by Leung. “Since Tsang was not appointed by Leung, I don’t think he feels he owes anything to the chief executive,” Choy said.