Donald Tsang

I’ve never heard of policy directives from Beijing, former Hong Kong leader says

Donald Tsang, who is out on bail pending appeal, says he was in contact with then finance minister as Asian financial crisis hit city, but official did not express opinion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 10:49pm

Former leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen says he never heard of Beijing issuing any directives on the formulation of policy and officials’ performance during his 15 years with the government after the 1997 handover.

“Many people said the central government meant this and that, but did they really know?” Tsang said in an exclusive interview with former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing on broadcaster i-Cable.

“There was a direct line between me and the director of the [State Council’s] Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing. I did not need outsiders to tell me what to do,” he said,

Tsang said he was in contact with then finance minister Xiang Huaicheng after a team he led pumped taxpayers’ money into the market in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

“He [Xiang] sounded nervous but did not express any opinion. Later that night, former premier Zhu Rongji expressed full support for Hong Kong,” he said.

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Tsang, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2012, was sentenced in February to 20 months in jail for misconduct in public office, becoming the city’s highest-ranked official to be put behind bars. He lodged an appeal on March 8 and was granted bail on April 24.

Looking back at his time as financial secretary from 1997 to 2001, Tsang said he had no idea former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa had called then vice-premier Qian Qichen for help before the Hong Kong government took action to defend the currency peg with the US dollar.

The defence, which involved HK$4 billion from the city’s exchange fund being pumped into the market from mid-August to early September 1998, was considered “the greatest challenge” in his career, he said.

Earlier this month, Tung said in a speech that he asked Qian if the central government could send some people to help solve the financial crisis. But Qian declined the request, saying Beijing officials knew little about Hong Kong and both sides might regret it if wrong advice was given.

Tung also said it was Qian who reminded him that Beijing should not send anyone under the “one country, two systems” principle.

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When asked in the interview if it was appropriate for the Hong Kong government to ask Beijing for help, Tsang said it could happen if there was a need, but it was a consensus of both sides to uphold the principle.

“Issues such as the economy and governance should be the responsibility of the Hong Kong government. The central government did not think it should involve itself in such matters,” Tsang said.

On disputes between localists and some mainland academics, Tsang noted: “When some radical speech emerges, you cannot stop some people on the mainland talking back, sometimes in words never heard before.”