John Tsang remains coy about entering CE race, despite Beijing’s nod to him and Carrie Lam

Chief secretary has waited only four days for resignation approval, compared to finance chief’s 35, but Tsang has yet to formally declare his bid for top job

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 7:04pm

Beijing has approved the resignation of Hong Kong ministers Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, paving the way for them to run in the chief executive race, but Tsang has issued an intriguing statement stopping short of saying whether he will enter the fray.

“I express my heartfelt gratitude for the central government’s trust, encouragement and support in the past ... During my leave, I have considered the question of whether to run for the chief executive election in a serious and detailed manner. I will hold a press conference in a matter of days to announce my decision,” Tsang’s statement read. It gave no further hint on whether he would commit to the race.

State-run news agency Xinhua announced that the State Council has given its approval for the two officials to leave their posts. It also announced the appointment, based on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s recommendation, of Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Paul Chan Mo-po as the city’s new chief secretary and financial secretary, respectively.

Cheung, the former labour and welfare secretary, had been the acting chief secretary since Lam resigned on Thursday, while Chan, a close ally of incumbent leader Leung, joined the government as development secretary in 2012. Professor Chan Ka-keung, who has been secretary for financial services and the treasury since 2007, was the acting finance minister for the past month.

“I consider it a great honour and privilege to be offered the position of chief secretary. It is a hugely challenging and important mission. I will continue to do my utmost to serve Hong Kong and its people,” Matthew Cheung told the South China Morning Post.

At the time of the announcement, Tsang had waited 35 days for Beijing’s approval, while Lam waited only four days. The two tendered their resignations on December 12 and January 12, respectively.

Lam is expected to officially declare her leadership bid in a press conference at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai at 5pm on Monday, but businessman Allan Zeman, a Lam supporter, said it would be a brief announcement as she would wait until her election rally on February 3 to unveil a manifesto.

In an invitation emailed to the media at 3pm, it was revealed that a key member of Lam’s media relations team would be retired RTHK deputy broadcasting director Tai Keen-man. Another team member is public affairs consultant Albert Chan. Tai and Chan could not be reached for comment.

It is understood that Lam has been preparing her campaign office in the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Last week, a public opinion survey commissioned by the Post gave Tsang a 4.4 percentage point lead over Lam. Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing are also in the race.

Regarding news of Beijing’s nod to Lam and Tsang, Ip said in a statement that she “welcomes a competitive election”, and hoped that “candidates can give Hong Kong a fair and open election by explaining their platforms and ideas to society”.

“Ip and her office will continue to rally for support through meeting different sectors, parties and organisations,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, news of development minister Paul Chan’s appointment as the city’s new financial secretary drew mixed reactions.

Securities and Futures Commission chairman Carlson Tong said he welcomed the appointment and looked forward to working with the new finance chief.

But some pundits were of the opinion that Chan Ka-keung, who has been secretary for financial services and the treasury for 10 years, might be a more appropriate choice – especially with the announcement of the next budget coming up in about a month on February 22.

In a statement, the Hong Kong government announced that labour and welfare undersecretary Stephen Sui Wai-keung and development undersecretary Eric Ma Siu-cheung will be acting ministers of their respective policy bureaus.

Additional reporting by Gary Cheung