Beijing did not move a key regional financial summit away from Hong Kong because it feared embarrassment from large-scale protests, John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday.
The financial chief was asked on a post-budget radio phone-in yesterday whether Tuesday's surprise announcement that the September meeting of Apec finance ministers and central bankers would move to the capital was linked to Occupy Central's plans for civil disobedience.
Tsang argued that Beijing was fully aware of Hongkongers' right to "peaceful" freedom of expression when the city was awarded meeting. Asked whether he had tried to persuade Beijing to change its mind, Tsang said: "We discussed [the decision] both internally, and with the central government … but it involves a series of changes and the decision couldn't be overturned." He said he only learned of the decision on the day it was made public.
Tsang's previous job as commerce minister saw him help to organise and chair the last major conference in Hong Kong, the World Trade Organisation's sixth ministerial conference, in 2005, which saw police clash with more than 1,000 anti-WTO protesters in the streets around the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
That experience led to concerns about conflict with Occupy Central, which has pledged to block roads if the government fails to bring forward an acceptable plan for universal suffrage.
Asked whether Occupy could have had an impact on Beijing's thinking, Tsang said: "I think Beijing understands that Hongkongers enjoy freedom of expression, and if the meeting were held in Hong Kong, reference must be drawn from the way we did things in the past."
Had the talks clashed with the protest, Tsang said: "I would try all means to ensure that things wouldn't affect the proceedings."
Tsang's comments echoed those of Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying , who said in Beijing on Wednesday that the switch was "not related to Occupy Central" and said those who thought otherwise were "over-speculating".
Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum officials said earlier that the decision was linked to logistical problems caused by US President Barack Obama's request to move the leaders' meeting back to November.