Beijing blueprint is basis for political reform in Hong Kong, John Tsang says

But ex-finance chief adds trust needed and political climate must be receptive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 12:37am

Beijing’s rigid framework for changing Hong Kong’s election system should be regarded as the basis for future political reform, former finance minister John Tsang Chun-wah said a day after he declared his bid to run for chief executive.

His clarification on Friday instantly upset the pan-democrats, whose support he needs to qualify for the city’s leadership race.

“A new round of political reform should be started from the August 31 decision rolled out by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress,” Tsang told RTHK, referring to Beijing’s blueprint in 2014 on how Hong Kong elections should be conducted.

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The framework, which served as a rallying point for Occupy protesters, would effectively allow a proposed 1,200-member nominating committee to screen out chief executive candidates deemed unacceptable to the central government.

Tsang’s newly clarified stance contrasted with his comments on Thursday, when he said, “the “August 31 decision was not our stance” but came from Beijing.

On the radio show yesterday, Tsang reiterated it would be irresponsible for the administration to restart the process if the political climate remained unchanged from 2014, when the 79-day Occupy movement demanding greater democracy emerged.

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“If it is just the same as 2014, it would not be responsible to launch the reform again. We should not hastily launch something highly controversial that will bear no fruit in the end,” he said.

The chief executive election campaign is in full swing after Beijing approved the resignations of Tsang and former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Monday, allowing both of them to start their electioneering.

Lam, who visited a cha chaan teng in Aberdeen to interact with citizens on Friday, was on the same page with Tsang as she also suggested the administration should wait for the right timing to revive the stalled political reform process.

“The launch of political reform will really wear down the officials in charge and also inevitably bring about disputes in society. The matter will have to be handled prudently if someone talks about the need for respite,” Lam said, in an apparent reference to Tsang’s remark that the city needed a break.

Tsang had said earlier that he would appeal for the pan-democrats’ support as he was facing an uphill battle to win the required 150 nominations from the 1,194-member Election Committee, especially since he did not appear to have a clear blessing from Beijing.

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But Civic Party vice-chairwoman Tanya Chan said her group would not support Tsang if he insisted on sticking to Beijing’s blueprint.

“The framework is a democratic retrogression. Tsang will not achieve his goal to move forward, re-establish trust and reignite hopes in Hong Kong, should he stand firm on the August 31 decision,” she said.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun also questioned if Beijing’s ruling had to be the basis of the next political reform drive.

“The ruling has its distinct historical background of the policial division and the [run-up to the] Occupy movement at the time … if society is harmonious, I don’t believe Beijing will revive that ruling,” he said.

On a separate radio show, Tsang admitted a number of people over the past month had advised him not to run, suggesting he had “no chance of winning”.

Tsang refused to state whether anyone had offered him another job in place of running for chief executive, saying cryptically: “I could not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung