Ex-leader Tung Chee-hwa to keep things at arm’s length after causing stir by hugging favourite for top Hong Kong job

Carrie Lam says the elder statesman is keen to avoid speculation he may be bestowing Beijing’s favour on a particular candidate

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 10:22am

Chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says former leader Tung Chee-hwa has stopped his usual practice of hugging her to avoid speculation she has been favoured for the job.

Lam, who quit as chief secretary last week, revealed his new hands-off approach on Wednesday. Her rival Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee also said Tung had embraced her in the past.

Elder statesman Tung set tongues wagging last month when he hugged Lam in front of other officials and the press during a ceremony to commemorate the Nanjing massacre.

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Pundits speculated whether the hug from Tung, a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was Beijing’s blessing for Lam to be the next chief executive.

But Lam dismissed such talk and said it was merely the “usual practice” between her and Tung.

“He would hug me every time we meet. But now he told me ‘I’m not hugging you as it has raised so much speculation’,” Lam said.

She said she had been in regular contact with Tung for some time.

“We would meet up for tea and chats occasionally and talk about state affairs or Sino-American relations,” she said.

But she admitted that Tung did contact her after she announced last month that she would reconsider whether to run for election.

“He asked me to think about it seriously as it was for the sake of Hong Kong,” she said.

Executive councillor Bernard Chan, now Lam’s campaign office chief, was among others who had contacted Lam directly and encouraged her to run.

Lam also said she understood the stress facing Ip, who welled up with tears on Tuesday after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying singled out Lam, praising her as an accountable and competent official.

“Ip might have faced pressure or felt wronged at some point and simply expressed her emotions. I think this is natural,” Lam said, adding that Ip was also an accountable person and had done much for the public.