John Tsang ‘can unite the city’, says ex-finance chief Antony Leung

Remarks seen as him stepping aside in favour of city’s financial secretary in next year’s race for chief executive position

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 10:04am

Hours after former finance chief Antony Leung Kam-chung pinned his hopes on Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to “unite Hong Kong” – the very quality he said the city’s leader should posses – the latter returned the camaraderie with a social media sleight-of-hand.

A photo of Leung, Tsang and former finance chief Henry Tang Ying-yen, taken at last night’s Lui Che Woo Prize awards, was posted onto Tsang’s official Facebook page late last night captioned: “Three generations of FS [financial secretary]”.

Tsang’s post drew more than 6,000 likes in an hour with hundreds of users interpreting the caption as a cheeky take on his unpopular boss Leung Chun-ying’s “three C meeting” gaffe at a press conference on the Wang Chau development controversy last month. In Chinese, the position held by the three government secretaries’ ­­– including financial secretary ­– is pronounced “C”.

“The anti-Leung [Chun-ying] gang,” one commenter remarked. Others praised him for his humour.

The move will add to further speculation that a coalition of sorts is massing behind the city’s No 3 to run for the top job in next year’s elections.

Tsang, who has cut a more amiable image than his boss, dropped hints in interviews over the summer that he would be prepared to take on incumbent Leung Chun-ying for the top job. A handshake between him and President Xi Jinping at the recent G20 summit in Hangzhou, was even perceived by analysts as a “nod from Beijing”.

Meanwhile, the remarks by Leung, who had been tipped as a dark horse in next year’s chief executive election, amounted to him stepping aside in favour of Tsang – a move which will not help Leung Chun-ying’s re-election bid, according to an analyst.

The former financial secretary had invited Tsang to an event by Food Angel, a charity he chaired, on Monday.

Addressing the audience, Antony Leung spoke of the current situation, saying a society too divided would be very difficult to govern. “To make Hong Kong more united... I hope the duties will be entrusted to the secretary,” Leung, now chief executive of developer Nan Fung Group, said.

National Day: Hong Kong leader says city must ‘safeguard’ beneficial ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement

The guest of honour responded only by saying that “Hong Kong is hopeful”, a theme he wrote about in his blog recently. He did not take questions from the press after the event.

Leung, meanwhile, elaborated on his view. “No matter who will lead Hong Kong, I hope he or she will be able to better unite Hongkongers,” he told reporters. “Of course, [the leader] should be able to implement ‘one country, two systems’ effectively and develop the economy and improve people’s livelihood. These two [factors] are important,” he added.

Leung, an adviser to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s think-tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, was seen as a possible candidate for the top job, although he had said he had no intention of running. Tung is a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and is seen as being close to the central leadership.

The banker joined Tung’s administration in 2001, and quit two years later amid criticisms he bought a Lexus he before sharply raising taxes on cars in his budget.

City University political scientist Cheung Chor-yung said Beijing will likely “weigh” Leung’s remarks. “[He] is someone whom Tung trusts and relies on,” Cheung said. “He is not someone who stirs up trouble within the pro-establishment camp and he doesn’t seem to have rivalry with Leung Chun-ying.

“Now he publicly implied that the current chief executive is not fit to seek another term – Beijing will hear that.”

If more people with a similar background as the former minister said the same thing, it will be more difficult for Leung Chun-ying to stay, the analyst added.

Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she agreed with the former minister that the city needed a leader who can mend ties because society had been torn apart. But she would not say whether she had someone in mind.

Meanwhile, Society for Community Organisation director Ho Hei-wah, a staunch supporter of Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 election, would not answer questions yesterday on whether he supported him seeking a second term.

The social activist said Leung “barely passed” in tackling the poverty and housing problems, two major issues he pledged to solve during his campaign. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did a better job and he would not support Tsang, he added.

Meanwhile, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah posted a picture of himself with Antony Leung Kam-chung and Henry Tang Ying-yen on his Facebook account, captioned “Three generations of FS [financial secretary]”. Most comments on the post seemed to interpret the caption as a cheeky reference to his boss Leung Chun-ying’s “three C meeting” gaffe last month. In Chinese, the position held by the three government secretaries’ ­­– including financial secretary ­– is pronounced “C”.