‘No plan’ to quit before budget, Hong Kong finance chief says, keeping tight-lipped about joining chief executive race

John Tsang Chun-wah fends off questions from press after apparent endorsement by former financial secretary Antony Leung

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 10:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 8:51pm

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary remained tight-lipped on his possible candidacy in the coming chief executive race, refusing to be pinned down on whether he would quit before or after delivering the budget.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a two-week trip to the Americas and the Netherlands, finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah, who had earlier expressed willingness to take up the top job, faced the question a day after former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung pinned his hopes on Tsang to unite Hong Kong.

Leung, himself a dark horse in the chief executive race, had said this was a quality the city’s next leader should have.

Tsang is due to deliver his 10th, and possibly final, budget in February next year, before the chief executive election in March.

When a reporter asked if Tsang intended to quit before then so that he could run for chief executive, the financial minister immediately dismissed the suggestion, saying he had no such plans.

Asked if that meant he would not seek candidacy, Tsang again replied, “I do not have such plans,” repeating the answer for a third time when questioned if he would have plans in the future.

The 65-year-old has been seen as the strongest challenger to incumbent Leung Chun-ying, who is widely expected to seek a second term in office even though he – like Tsang – has remained tight-lipped about his intentions.

Tsang’s predecessor Henry Tang Ying-yen, who became chief secretary in 2007, quit the latter job in late September 2011 and announced his bid for the chief executive post in November the same year. Tang then lost to Leung in the election in March 2012.

In what has been seen as an early indication of interest, Tsang revealed on a July radio programme that he was willing to take up the job as chief executive “if it can help contribute to ­society”, although he stressed that it was a “bad” and difficult job as “all chief executives are bound to be criticised”.

Speculation was rife when former financial chief Antony Leung pinned his hopes on Tsang to unite the city during a charity event on Monday.

Asked again if he was willing to take up the responsibility, Tsang promptly dismissed the question by saying it was everyone’s responsibility to unite Hong Kong, and that it was not a job for an individual.

He also brushed aside suggestions that Leung Chun-ying chose to kick off a joint policy address and budget consultation just before he went out of town, saying he could read the detailed minutes of the consultation sessions when he returned.

Leung will deliver his policy address in mid-January – one month earlier than the budget – and some analysts see that as giving him an edge over Tsang as he would have extra time to focus on the election.

Last week Leung threatened to sue Apple Daily over an editorial it published in September, which the chief executive’s lawyers claimed had “falsely, viciously and maliciously” accused him of corruption.

The legal letter argued that the allegations affected his ability to exercise his right to stand for re-election.

He defended this move before his weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, saying the claims had a “significant impact” and needed to be addressed.