When someone says he has no ulterior motive, you can be sure that's exactly what he has. So when Joseph Yam Chi-kwong wrote that he was 'allergic' to politics, in his bombshell paper raising the possibility of ditching the Hong Kong-US dollar peg, you could spot the disingenuous statement a mile away. Presented at Chinese University as a technical paper, all 34 pages amounted to a political act of revanchism, down to its last words: 'I offer apologies to those upset by my ... too frank views.'
Perhaps he was trying to deflect criticism in a Legislative Council report over his role in the Lehman Brothers minibond fiasco. I doubt it. The former Monetary Authority chief is not averse to politics, only the type that may be loosely called democratic or populist.
After his retirement, Yam played the Olympian wise man, serving as a professor at universities in Hong Kong and on the mainland, and as an adviser to China's central bank. But the role of kingmaker proved too enticing. So he backed Henry Tang Ying-yen, whom most people thought was sure to be the next chief executive. But the inept Tang proved to be an unsalvageable disaster. Well, that's the backroom-dealing and king-making politics with which Yam is most comfortable, but Hong Kong is way past that now.
Yam wrote: 'Democracy, public opinion and public standing are all very important to effective governance and are political attributes that politicians and even public officers crave for. I applaud those who can achieve high scores in these attributes. But these attributes, in Chinese, are all just one word away from ... populism. I hope Hong Kong does not go down that slippery slope towards large government, persistent budget deficits, heavy public debt, financial meltdown and monetary crisis.'
That's tit for tat. Election victor Leung Chun-ying says he is ready to dip into the Exchange Fund, which is sacrilege. So Yam is daring to fight back by proposing ditching the peg.
As his former deputy Tony Latter writes in a letter to the Post today: 'One wonders whether [Yam] would be presenting the arguments for change so lucidly had he been on the winning team in the election campaign.'