Tycoon Ronnie Chan first public figure to openly endorse CY Leung in Hong Kong chief executive race

Hang Lung Group chairman praises current administration for handling of city’s land shortage issues in letter to shareholders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 7:50pm

Next March’s chief executive race is heating up, with property tycoon Ronnie Chan Chi-chung becoming the first prominent public figure to openly endorse incumbent Leung Chun-ying for a second term.

The remarks by the Hang Lung Group chairman came amid a widening rift between the chief executive and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Leung’s potential rival in the coming race, over the controversial Wang Chau development plan.

In a rare gesture, Chan, a staunch supporter of Leung’s election bid in 2012, openly supported the current administration in his group’s interim report.

Hong Kong had suffered from a shortage of land supply since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-99, he said, because the “incredibly foolish and irresponsible” government then had refused to sell the land it had monopolised.

Donald Tsang’s admission shows why Hong Kong’s housing supply remains a key issue for the next leader

“The situation only began to change for the better when the present administration under Mr C.Y. Leung took office in 2012. The first step it undertook was to administratively control demand,” Chan wrote in the chairman’s letter to shareholders, referring to the introduction of double stamp duty, buyer stamp duty and other special measures which were “accomplished in less than two years”.

The tycoon also said Leung’s administration had scoured the city for saleable plots of land and made more land available by rezoning and reclamation since he took office.

“After three years, the market was finally convinced that the government has succeeded in supplying an adequate amount of land on a more or less sustainable basis. Aided by a weak economy, home prices finally peaked last September,” Chan said.

“As long as the current administration stays on, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, we can finally expect a healthier residential market in the coming few years.”

But Wong Leung-sing, associate director of research at property agency Centaline, was unconvinced by Chan’s views.

“The goal of providing 20,000 flats per year is not invented by Leung but Donald Tsang Yam-kuen two years before his term ended,” said Wong, referring to Leung’s predecessor. “What [Chan] said was only political lobbying.”

Chan is one of a rare breed of tycoons who do not side with Tsang.

He once slammed the latter for driving up property prices by refusing to sell land and described him as a “political trickster”.

The outspoken businessman has also long been a heavy critic of John Tsang’s financial philosophy.

In 2013, just a year after Leung assumed office, Chan lambasted the finance chief as the city’s “big sinner” for “foolishly” dishing out sweeteners worth nearly HK$200 billion in recent years instead of making long-term investments.

He argued the financial secretary was doing so only because he feared public criticism.

“He should do the right things for the overall interests of Hong Kong, rather than his own self-interest. It was foolish for him to keep on handing out goodies,” Chan said.

At a media gathering in February this year, when asked if John Tsang had a chance of leading the city, Chan responded: “Absolutely not.”