Chief executive hopeful fond of mahjong, massages and the MTR ... but quiet on ties to Li Ka-shing

Woo Kwok-hing is openly critical of Leung Chun-ying, but what does he think of Regina Ip, John Tsang and the localists?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 10:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 1:31pm

Chief executive hopeful Woo Kwok-hing told the Post on Monday that he was just like “any common folk” and a fan of mahjong, a massage in Shenzhen and travelling on the MTR.

In a Facebook Live chat session, Woo was keen to share aspects of his daily life and stress his everyman credentials. He correctly pinpointed the city’s current minimum wage rate, and said he paid the elderly fare of HK$2 for trips on the MTR every day.

Hong Kong is free to discuss independence but we can’t go beyond that, chief executive hopeful says

In sports, he was aware of local boxing star Rex Tso Sing-yu, and after being told potential chief executive competitor John Tsang Chun-wah was a fan was quick to reply that he had watched on television the athlete’s recent victory.

Watch: Woo Kwok-hing’s live Q&A with political reporter Joyce Ng

Woo said smoking and mahjong were his only vices, and claimed he had no skeletons in his closet that could scupper his run for the city’s top job.

“I love playing mahjong,” said the 70 year old. “I’m just like common folk,” he said.

Woo also said he often went up to Shenzhen with his wife for a massage because it was much cheaper than in Hong Kong.

But when it came to his relationship with tycoon Li Ka-shing, he was less forthcoming.

Asked to respond to rumours Li and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, who appointed Woo to head the Electoral Affairs Commission, were among people backing him, he was vague.

“I talked to a number of people and just informed the people I talked to of my intention to run,” he said. “Some of them were nicely surprised but they did not say they’d support me,” he said.

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But Woo did reveal that Li had appeared before him as a witness in a court case two decades ago.

According to a Post report on the 1996 case, Woo then rejected a claim made by an American woman, Adrienne Marsh Lefkowitz, against the tycoon.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing first to officially throw hat in the ring for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election

Lefkowitz had accused the tycoon of withholding HK$15 million she claimed was her father’s funds in trust for her. She said Li had been holding the funds but later broke his promise to her father to hand her the money.

Woo would not say whether he was on good terms with Li or Tung, only saying it was up to them to say more.

Doubts have been raised about how serious the retired judge is in his bid for the chief executive post, as he has yet to announce any endorsements or policies, which he said would come by December.

He added he had recruited 10 people for his campaign team.

“I have ideas in my pocket,” he said.

A transcript of Woo’s interview with the Post

Q: There are rumours Tung Chee-hwa and Li Ka-shing are among the people who back you. Is that true?

A: Er ... yes or no.

Why yes or no?

There’s no point saying that.

Have you talked to them on your intention to run?

I talked to a number of people ... I just informed the people I talked to of my intention to run, that’s it.

Is it true you are on good terms with Mr Li and Mr Tung?

I don’t know. It’s up to them to say.

Why are you pulling the punches on John Tsang and Regina Ip but not CY Leung?

One of the reasons for me to run is to try to make sure [CY Leung] won’t have a second term. That’s why I have some ideas about him already.

As far as other contenders, they may come out, they may not come out. I don’t have any material. They haven’t said anything yet.

Regina Ip…

I know the person, but I’m not a friend of hers. I know John Tsang, but I’m not a friend of his. But with that sort of scant knowledge about the person it’s difficult to tell. For example, I know I’m honest, sincere and outspoken, and most people I meet including politicians, they trust me. That derives from my chairmanship of the EAC [Electoral Affairs Commission], the post I occupied for 13 years.

Do you buy the idea that if CY Leung wins, one million people will take to the streets?

I think so. I hope not. There may well be emigration. Who knows? People are so disappointed, so distrustful of him.

If you were to meet President Xi Jinping tomorrow, what would you say to him?

I’ll say please let us reopen our political reform. That’s the utmost concern of people. Without it, Hong Kong will remain in stalemate forever.

What do you think of the view that the liaison office is meddling too much in Hong Kong affairs?

When the office says something that touches upon the government, it can be seen as meddling in Hong Kong affairs. That’s no good ... But there is no evidence.

Are you a supporter of civil disobedience?

No, I am not a supporter of anything that is in breach of the law. But as a youngster, if there was such a thing 50 years ago, I might well have gone [to the Occupy protests]. Even if I had no aspirations, no political ideas, I’d still have gone just for the fun.

So you think the idea [of civil disobedience] is totally unlawful?

Yes. Don’t do it that way. Don’t do it in a violent way.

What are your views on the disqualification of Edward Leung Tin-kei?

I’m sorry, I can’t comment on that because there is an ongoing case. The rule is if legal proceedings are ongoing, you should not talk publicly about the issues in that case for fear that you may interfere with the judge’s thinking … If a judge is influenced by a certain thought expressed in public, you don’t know. The parties may not know. They may not have the chance to address the judge as to that issue which the judge has already made up his mind on. That’s the danger. That’s to be prohibited.

But you’re no longer a judge. You are a politician and you should be free to comment.

No, nobody is free to comment on that in public including you and me. Whether I’m a judge or not doesn’t matter. That would be contempt of court. You can be caught and prosecuted. A lot of people have expressed their views on this sort of thing, but no prosecution has been brought. I’d just say you’re lucky. You’re contravening the law. That’s all.

What are your opinions on the ideology of localists?

I don’t quite fully understand their aspirations. In so far as the localists are asking for the two systems to be maintained to make sure that Hong Kong does have the power to govern its own people, I’m in full agreement. That’s for Hongkongers to look after, rule over, legislate for Hongkongers, that’s for sure.

If they were talking about independence for Hong Kong, then I’d have to say as a judge that is against the Basic Law. The first article of the Basic Law provides that Hong Kong shall be an inseparable part of China. If we were to attempt that, it would be a contravention of the Basic Law. And that article cannot be changed even if you have two-thirds majority in Legco.

How about self-determination?

Depends what it means. If you mean local people ruling over Hong Kong people and local people determining issues in accordance to local people’s interest, why not? That’s a matter of course under “one country, two systems”. But if you mean independence, that’s not allowable, that contravenes the constitution. As an older man, I must say that’s impractical altogether. How about if you have no water to drink, if the central government doesn’t sell you water? What will you do? If they don’t allow poultry to be exported to Hong Kong? How much do you have to pay for a pork chop, or a deep frozen piece of chicken?

Apart from smoking, do you have other vices that you want to confess to now?

Yes, I love playing mahjong. But the people I played with have gone. I’m just like any common folk. Sometimes I’ll go up to Shenzhen with my wife for a massage. [Hong Kong] is too expensive.