China Conference

Unity elusive for Hong Kong if John Tsang cannot run, former financial minister Antony Leung says

Former Hong Kong financial secretary says city’s current financial chief has crucial ability to lead city and bridge sharp divisions despite Beijing’s reported lack of enthusiasm for his bid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 11:26pm

If Beijing blocks Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah from running for Hong Kong’s top job, it will be difficult to unite a divided city, one of his predecessors warned on Friday.

Antony Leung Kam-chung, who has cited the “ability to unite Hong Kong” as a key requirement for the next chief executive and identified Tsang as such a candidate, was asked on Friday to comment on reports that the financial secretary was “all set to go” for the leadership race next March, despite being “shown a red light” by Beijing.

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“If the central government showed him the red light, then what? If there was really the red light, unity would be difficult,” said Leung, who served as finance minister from 2001 to 2003, stepping down due to a scandal over his purchase of a luxury car just before imposing a new vehicle tax.

Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who has also indicated he might challenge incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying “to offer a genuine choice”, dismissed suggestions on Friday he was “shown the red light” as well.

“There is no Beijing official telling me that the entire central government will make me suffer if I run,” Tsang said.

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“Leung Chun-ying was also once shown the red light, but he still joined the race and won in 2012. So I don’t know what ‘red light’ means.”

A 1,200-member Election Committee will select the city’s chief executive on March 26.

At the Post’s annual China Conference on Friday, Antony Leung said: “I hope ... whoever will be successful in the elections, will be people that support ‘one country, two systems’.

“If it is the chief executive [election], I hope that person will have the experience, strategy, as well as the direction of leading Hong Kong to successfully developing its economy, improving people’s livelihood.

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“The third quality would be the ability to unite Hong Kong, make Hong Kong politically and socially not as divided as [it is] today.”

Asked if he would still support Tsang, Leung said: “Then you have to ask if he’s still going for it.”

Tsang repeatedly declined to answer that question on Friday as he attended two business events.

But at one function he lauded the importance of social enterprises in bringing “unity and positive energy” to Hong Kong, while at the second event he focused on Hong Kong’s economic outlook.

New People’s Party vice-chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said recent reports a “red light” from Beijing was blocking Tsang might be true. “But I have confidence John Tsang will soon go ahead regardless,” Tien told the Post.