Pro-Beijing camp still simmering over CE candidate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

The Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions, the flagships of traditional patriotism in Hong Kong, were among the first groups showing their backing for Tung Chee-hwa's bid for a second term back in December, 2001. The two groups threw their weight behind Mr Tung even before the former chief executive formally announced his decision to seek re-election.

Compared with the business leaders and pro-government figures who scrambled to heap praise on Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's abilities to become the next chief executive, the traditional pro-government camp's support for the hot favourite's bid to succeed Mr Tung has been obviously half-hearted, if not lukewarm.

The DAB, renamed the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong after its final merger with the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance in April, remains non-committal on Mr Tsang's bid nearly a week after he announced his decision to stand.

Although the leaders of the DAB consider Mr Tsang a better candidate than other contenders for the top job, the pro-government flagship withheld its support for the former chief secretary's candidacy until the party's central committee gave its expected but long-awaited backing on Tuesday.

And while he praised Mr Tsang's competence, Federation of Trade Unions chairman Wong Kwok-kin said the union might not require its members on the 800-strong Election Committee to jointly support a candidate for the top job.

Even DAB legislator Choy So-yuk stirred things up in April when she warned of discontent with Mr Tsang in the patriotic camp. In her broadcast on RTHK's Letter to Hong Kong, she said there seemed to be a cultural gap and emotional distance between Mr Tsang and patriotic forces. Describing Mr Tsang as a staunch supporter of British rule over past decades, Ms Choy said: 'He was viewed by some in the pro-Beijing camp as disrespectful of the patriotic values they cherished and treasured over the decades, and paid dear prices for. His elevation alienated quite a few in this camp.'

Concerns have been raised about whether Ms Choy's criticism was a reflection of deep-seated discontent with Mr Tsang, who was knighted in 1997 for his service during the colonial era, within the traditional leftist camp. It is too simple to conclude from Ms Choy's comments that there is widespread dissatisfaction with or even hatred for Mr Tsang among the traditional pro-government camp.

DAB chairman Ma Lik said Ms Choy's remarks did not represent the mainstream opinions of either his party or the traditional pro-Beijing camp. He admitted that some people from the latter group had reservations about Mr Tsang, adding that the majority of people from the traditional pro-Beijing camp used to take the interests of the whole into account.

A leader of a pro-Beijing organisation said some veteran leftists were unhappy with the leadership changes because they were kept in the dark about Mr Tung's departure. 'They felt hurt for not being told in advance, though they are longtime followers of the central government,' the leftist leader said.

It is naive to assume that the leftist camp is sincerely convinced about the virtues of Mr Tsang's sudden ascendancy to the apex of power. A veteran Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, also from the traditional left, said many in the pro-Beijing camp had reservations and negative feelings about senior officials who had served in the colonial administration. 'They think it was justifiable for Beijing to place these officials nurtured by the British government in crucial positions in the initial years after the handover. [But] they can't understand why these officials still form the backbone of Hong Kong's ruling elite seven years after the handover. Isn't it an indication of the failure of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong'?' the NPC deputy said.

The South China Morning Post understands that some mainland officials agree that Ms Choy's letter carried some truth. Traditionalist reservations with Mr Tsang may stem from the entirely different career path of the former chief secretary and local leftists. Four months before the outbreak of the leftist-led riots in 1967, Mr Tsang joined the Hong Kong government as an executive officer. It was mere coincidence that he started his 38-year career as a civil servant in the year when the leftist camp in Hong Kong instigated Hong Kong's worst political disturbances, which claimed 51 lives and briefly brought Hong Kong to a standstill.

Given his low rank in the colonial administration at the time, Mr Tsang had virtually no connection with the colonial administration's suppression of the riots. In 1970, the young Mr Tsang was promoted to an administrative officer, paving the way for his participation in policymaking in the government in the next three decades.

Pro-Beijing organisations shunned participation in public affairs in Hong Kong after the 1967 riots. The Federation of Trade Unions refused to join the labour advisory framework until the 1980s. Chan Yuen-han, vice-chairwoman of the Federation of Trade Unions, was the first candidate from the pro-Beijing union to stand in local elections. She won a seat in Eastern District Council elections in 1988.

The NPC deputy said many in the traditional pro-Beijing camp were dissatisfied that Beijing and Mr Tung had not actively nurtured political talents from the patriotic camp over the past seven years. 'Beijing only forced us to give blind support to the Tung administration, but we were not given key positions in the government,' he said.

The local leftists were disgruntled about Mr Tung's partiality for the business sector and the pro-business Liberal Party. 'No minister comes from the patriotic camp, while Henry Tang Ying-yen, a former member of the Liberal Party, was promoted to be financial secretary even after Liberal party leader James Tien Pei-chun's abrupt resignation from the executive council forced the government to withdraw the national security legislation in 2003,' the NPC deputy said.

But another NPC delegate said there was a dearth of political talent within the pro-Beijing camp. 'If the government asks our organisation to name a minister, honestly we can't give one. We must face the harsh reality,' he said.

Priscilla Lau Pui-king, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, said some local leftists thought civil servants like Mr Tsang did not have a deep understanding of the mainland. 'There exists an ideological gap between the leftists and senior officials nurtured by the colonial administration. It's a matter of different ideology between some leftists and senior officials,' said Dr Lau, also a founding member of the DAB.

Knowing that the support of the leftist camp is crucial for his governance, Mr Tsang attended the opening ceremony of the regional offices of two DAB lawmakers in Tai Po and Kwun Tong in March and April. He even embraced Ms Choy when he attended a dinner hosted by the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations last Thursday.

Given the fact that Mr Tsang is picked by Beijing, the leftist camp, which used to consider the 'whole picture' of the central government's policies on Hong Kong, has no alternative but to back the favoured candidate.