My Take

In the topsy-turvy world of Hong Kong politics, black can be white

Beijing is rooting for Carrie Lam to win the chief executive election, but it is John Tsang – backed by the pan-dems – who is more likely to be a lapdog

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 1:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 1:46am

According to Hong Kong deputies who were present at the weekend meeting with Zhang Dejiang (張德江), the National People’s Congress chairman said the central government had the last word on who could be appointed the city’s chief executive.

Some people in Hong Kong seem to be shocked by it. It’s actually not even news. The Basic Law clearly spells out the chief executive is accountable to the central government (Article 43) and must be appointed by it (Article 45).

It seems all the brouhaha is really about whether Beijing would be willing to appoint underdog John Tsang Chun-wah should he win the election race later this month.

Beijing has last word in Hong Kong leadership race, delegates told

Zhang repeated Beijing’s standards for appointing the next chief executive: “Love the country and love Hong Kong, trusted by Beijing, and capable of governing and is supported by Hong Kong people.”

While Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is clearly Beijing’s favourite, is there any reason to think Tsang may not be acceptable to the central government? Would Beijing risk a political crisis just to prevent someone as unthreatening as Tsang to take up the top post? It seems absurd.

Perhaps the only reason this is even being discussed is that in the topsy-turvy world of Hong Kong politics, Tsang is being championed by the pan-democrats on the Election Committee. It’s good the pan-dems have a chance to play kingmaker, but this doesn’t make Tsang one of them.

Lam is hated by the pan-dems because she has been closely associated with outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying and because she is Beijing’s babe. But in some ways, Lam is much closer ideologically to the pan-dems than Tsang, at least when it comes to livelihood issues and her commitment to social welfare, housing, education and health care.

By contrast, during his decade-long tenure as finance chief, Tsang had been stingy with the government’s overflowing coffers, and practised what could only be described as capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich. That’s what he meant by “small government, big market”.

Lam has at times shown initiative to exploit leeway when the leash on her has not been too tight. Tsang, knowing he was not Beijing’s first choice, would go out of his way to demonstrate loyalty should he become the city’s next leader. My guess is that he would make an even more docile lapdog.