Hong Kong lawmaker Michael Tien dodges question about split with New People’s Party

Departure would be another blow to party founder Regina Ip after her failure in chief executive election campaign

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 11:23pm

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun was coy on Friday about speculation that he would quit the New People’s Party after falling out with the group’s founding leader, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee – a move pundits warned could cripple the outfit.

His departure, if confirmed, would be another setback for Ip, who dropped out of Hong Kong’s leadership race last month after failing to secure enough support among the 1,194 Election Committee voters.

Chinese-language newspapers Sing Tao Daily and Economic Times quoted sources on Friday as saying that Tien would quit as early as next week over a disagreement with Ip on the role of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

Pro-Beijing party showing cracks in leadership as vice-chairman criticises Regina Ip’s ‘conflicting’ roles

Tien launched a thinly-veiled attack on the liaison office in January by saying that the race for Hong Kong’s top job had “lost its shape” due to increasing interference by an “invisible hand”. But Ip has been reluctant to criticise the liaison office.

Asked about the reports and to elaborate on his differences with Ip, Tien said: “I don’t know what you are talking about. I can only say that something might happen at the right time, and I will explain clearly when it does happen ... I cannot say too much at this stage.”

Ip flew to Dubai for a business trip on Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Tien, who runs clothing chain G2000, joined the Liberal Party in 2008 when it was chaired by his older brother, James Tien Pei-chun. But the younger Tien quit the Liberals in 2010 after a row with the party’s leadership and later joined forces with Ip, a lawmaker and former security minister.

Tien served as the party’s vice-chairman and was elected a lawmaker in 2012. A third lawmaker, Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, was elected last September.

However, the relationship between Ip and Tien deteriorated after the election. At that time, Tien had expressed interest in running for the Legislative Council’s presidency, but Ip endorsed his rival, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.

Tien was understood to be furious and launched a barely-veiled attack on Ip, who at the time served on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s Executive Council, saying: “If a leader sits on the Executive Council, his or her party would become a ‘government party’, and that’s definitely a problem for the New People’s Party.”

Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said Tien’s departure would do no good to the party, Ip or Tien himself.

“Without party affiliation, a pro-establishment politician is replaceable in the eyes of Beijing’s liaison office,” Ma said. “If Tien leaves, the NPP’s political energy would be undermined as well.”

In a reference to the 66-year-old party leader, Ma added: “Ip might not stay in the Legco for many years ... it will be difficult for her party to attract young talent from the pro-establishment camp.”

James Tien believed his brother was likely to quit and that this would be a good move.

“If he is independent, he does not need to rely on the liaison office’s help in canvassing votes and he doesn’t have to be pro-government,” Tien said. “He can really speak up for the people … and groom young talents who don’t want to shoeshine.”

Party member and Tuen Mun district councillor Kam Man-fung, 34, said he had worked closely with Tien in recent years as Tien’s New Territories West constituency covered Tuen Mun.

“If Tien is leaving, we need to strengthen our communication with Ip and Yung ... but young people will continue to join us, just as we did when Ip was our only lawmaker when the party was founded,” Kam told the Post.