|The battle to run Hong Kong
By Qiu Xin
HONG KONG - It's not too soon to jockey for political position and prepare for
Beijing-orchestrated elections for Hong Kong's chief executive.
It is only two years before the election for the third chief executive of Hong
Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), but all the likely candidates
recommended by the general public are still busy with their duties and
downplaying their ambitions. The position of the central government in Beijing
in clear: appropriate competition is indispensable to guarantee the competence
of the next chief executive (CE), and only the candidate acceptable to the vast
majority will be recognized by Beijing. The current CE, Tung Chee-hwa, has
fallen into disfavor with Beijing for alleged incompetence and failure to keep
in touch with the people.
Neither the Legislative Council nor the CE is chosen by direct universal
suffrage, though Beijing says that is the ultimate goal. It says, however, that
conditions are not yet right for full democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing, however,
is disillusioned with the incumbent and says his successor, chosen by an
800-member election committee, must truly reflect the will of the Hong Kong
people. Beijing plays a major role in the selection of that committee.
Contrary to the democratic enthusiasm welcomed in Western communities, whoever
opts openly for election in China is often seen as conceited and
self-aggrandizing, often a novice in a complex political game - modesty plays
better than ambition. At the moment, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald
Tsang and Financial Secretary Henry Tang are considered the two most promising
prospects for the CE election scheduled in 2007, although the two have not yet
declared their intentions to run.
In one corner, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, 61, holds a master's degree in public
administration from Harvard University. He joined the Hong Kong civil service
in January 1967 and has assumed many positions in the administration dealing
with local administration, finance, trade and policies relating to the return
of Hong Kong to China. In September 1995, he was appointed financial secretary,
the first Chinese to hold the position after 150 years of British incumbents.
During his six-year tenure, Tsang steered Hong Kong through the Asian financial
crisis that swept across the region in 1997 and 1998. In May 2001, he was
nominated chief secretary for administration, a post he continues to fill.
In the other corner is Henry Tang Ying-yen, 53, who was a leading industrialist
in Hong Kong before he entered the civil service. After graduation from the
University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in arts, he helped his father
manage the family business back in Hong Kong in 1976. Between 1995 and 2001, he
served as chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and served as a
committee member of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. In July 2002
Tang became secretary for commerce, industry and technology; in 2003 he assumed
the post of financial secretary, replacing Antony Leung, who was mired in a
Both Donald Tsang and Henry Tang have in common educational experience in the
United States, unlike incumbent Chief Executive Tung, who was educated in
Britain. Ever since Hong Kong returned to China's embrace in 1997, the former
British enclave gradually has been distancing itself from London.
Regarding parentage and family background, the two potential candidates are on
equal terms. Tsang is Hong Kong-born and -bred, and his native identity may be
a rallying point of popularity and help him garner votes. Tang, however, has
his roots in Wuxi city of eastern China's Jiangsu province. But his father,
Tang Hsiang-chein, who has pumped substantial investments into the developing
hinterland after China's economic reform and opening-up started, is now aboard
the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference, and he boasts intimate associations with the Beijing leadership,
including former state president Jiang Zemin, also a Jiangsu native.
Recently, the Hong Kong community has been split in support of the two likely
candidates. Stanley Ho, chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association
(REDA) of Hong Kong, on February 17 openly encouraged Tsang to run for the CE's
post. Plus, Hopewell Holdings Ltd chairman Gordon Wu gave high marks to Tsang
in a public event but did not comment on Tang's performance, adding that Tsang
should be more experienced than Tang.
Earlier, Ho and his favorite candidate, Donald Tsang, had a disagreement on the
bidding for the future West Kowloon Cultural District Development. The landmark
project will develop the Kowloon waterfront into a cluster of museums,
theaters, piazzas, an art-exhibition center and a performance venue, plus vast
parklands and a promenade. While the government was planning to put the project
out to a single tender, REDA suggested that the project could be auctioned in
parts so that more developers could participate in the construction. On behalf
of the government, Tsang dug in his heels for a single tender at the very
beginning, but he soon changed his mind in return for the political support
from REDA chairman Ho. On February 21, Tsang said that the bidding model of the
West Kowloon project could be reviewed.
Financial Secretary Henry Tang, on the other side, has his hands full in
budgeting for the year to come. Considering the recovery signs of the Hong Kong
economy, he is expected to make some policies pleasing to the public. On
February 22, Tang noted that a poverty-reduction campaign would start at the
earliest possible time, in response to popular demand. Helping the needy will
not only echo Beijing's call for "caring about the disadvantaged", but it also
will add credits to the financial secretary's popularity. In early January,
Hong Kong Liberal Party chairman Tien Pei-chun, a close friend of Tang, rebuked
Chief Secretary for Administration Tsang for manipulating the tender of the
West Kowloon project, but Tien was suspected later of helping Tang discredit
his competitor. At this point, Henry Tang's father, Tang Hsiang-chein, made it
clear that Henry should decide on his own whether or not to sign up for the
Facing fusillades of questions from the media, the two hopefuls for chief
executive have left their options open. "I'm already used to the wide
conjecture about my political career in over 10 years, as well as all the
joking about my decision to be or not to be a candidate," Donald Tsang replied
on February 18. He said that he had no time to ponder future politics beyond
his current duties, and said he felt as though he were treading on eggs every
day just to meet public requirements. At a New Year's celebration gathering
with the press on February 9, Tsang once said, half in jest, that he would
retire after his secretaryship expired in 2007.
Henry Tang has given a similar;u nebulous response. "I'll focus on the job at
hand. I hope that when I leave the post of financial secretary, I can have
general recognition from the people. Should the unemployment rate at that time
be lower and the economy be stronger than today, I would say we have realized
the goal of a united society and an improved economy."
As regards the election of the next Hong Kong chief executive, Beijing has left
some leeway for appropriate competition. Attending a cocktail party hosted on
February 22 in celebration of the Chinese New Year, Yang Wenchang, commissioner
of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, said the central government would
accept whomever most Hong Kong people chose as their next chief executive, no
matter whether he or she hailed from the business circle or the civil service.
When asked which was better, a business background or a civil-service
background, Yang replied, "It's hard to say. Everyone has a different opinion.
Some say civil service, and some others prefer business. But I think it depends
on the decision of the majority."
Political observers, however, worry that the Hong Kong community could be split
up again during the two years' run-up to the election of the chief executive.
Three years ago when Tung Chee-hwa ran for re-election and stood as the only
candidate for the top job, with the backing of Beijing, Hong Kong society was
split - the bigger portion against Tung and the smaller one supporting him. To
secure a harmonious and stable Hong Kong, it is clear that the top priority is
to single out a competent and popular leader for the territory. Obviously, that
concept now has been grasped by the powers that be in Beijing.
Jiang's foe becomes Hu's friend
Donald Tsang recently has been rumored to be Beijing's first choice to succeed
Tung Chee-hwa as the chief executive. His emergence didn't come all of a
sudden, considering the following chain of events.
Last September, Jiang Zemin, former Chinese president and former party chief,
resigned his powerful chairmanship of the Chinese Communist Party Central
Military Commission; he will also resign from a lesser post on the Central
Military Commission this month. This is widely regarded as another victory for
President and party chief Hu Jintao, Jiang's successor, in this round of
jockeying for power and influence.
When attending the ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of Macau's handover
to communist China, Hu met with Tung Chee-hwa's administration and encouraged
the officials to rejuvenate Hong Kong's economy further. Hu shook hands with
Financial Secretary Henry Tang, a member of Jiang's clan by some accounts, for
four seconds, while he shook hands for six seconds with Donald Tsang - yes,
some China watchers apparently keep a stopwatch to keep track of such minutiae.
What aroused even more speculation was that Hu even held a talk with Tsang on
the sidelines - a mark of favor and interest that was noted.
On February 18, Stanley Ho Hung San (who also is a gambling tycoon), enjoying
close ties with Beijing, openly voiced his support for Tsang. "Of course, I
want him [Tsang] to become chief executive for two terms, as his [popularity]
rating is so high. He should take the job," Ho was quoted as saying.
Not everyone of influence in Beijing favors Tsang; he is anything but the apple
of former leader Jiang's eye. During the 1996 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC) summit, Tsang, then financial secretary of British-ruled Hong Kong, made
a very negative impression on Jiang. During an official banquet, Tsang asked
his table mate Jiang to inscribe on his table napkin some words for Hong
Kongers. Jiang granted the favor, but grudgingly.
In an interval during the APEC conference, Jiang was whispering with Koo
Chen-fu, then chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, the only
private organization empowered by the government to handle technical or
business matters with mainland China. Their private chat halted abruptly at the
approach of the relatively unsophisticated - when it comes to political
wheeling and dealing - Tsang.
Tsang's religious beliefs probably will turn out to be the major barrier to his
political future, as leaders in Beijing are all atheists - at least in theory.
Educated in a Roman Catholic school, Tsang is proud to be a devout Catholic,
while Beijing's relations with the Vatican are strained. Besides, Beijing
viewed with great suspicion and distrust Joseph Zen, the Roman Catholic bishop
of Hong Kong, who frequently challenged China's authority and continued to
promote the democracy campaign. Of course, Jiang Zemin was weary of the
prospect of dealing with another prospective headache in the person of Tsang.
During Hong Kong's handover from Britain, Beijing opposed Tsang's succession to
the post of chief secretary for administration from Anson Chan Fang On-sang.
Were it not for Tung Chee-hwa's campaigning for Tsang, for the sake of
maintaining Hong Kong's morale, the nomination could never have gained
Tsang's pro-United Kingdom stance during the handover in 1997 represents
another problem for him today. When participating in the draft of Sino-British
Joint Declaration, Tsang allegedly was racking his brain to seek the maximum
interests of his former British employers. Because of his distinguished
service, Tsang was promoted to secretary for the Treasury in May 1993. Later,
when negotiating the financial arrangement in Beijing, he abruptly began to
speak English in an arrogant tone, which irritated Chen Zuo'er, currently
deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
Just days before the handover of the territory, Prince Charles conferred upon
Tsang a knighthood (KBE, Knight of the British Empire) in a high-profile
ceremony on June 28, 1997 - this also angered many Beijing officials. They
would surely feel perplexed, to say the least, if Donald Tsang were to govern
Hong Kong at a later date.
Last year, China hinted that the discussion over Hong Kong's controversial
constitutional development with Beijing should be postponed, so that Beijing
could pay full attention to Taiwan's presidential election. Tsang, ignoring the
suggestion, insisted on going to the capital to bargain with the officials
concerned. He was apparently given a cold shoulder there: Zeng Qinghong,
Chinese vice president in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, kept him
waiting outside his office door, instead sending a far junior official from the
Office of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs to deal with Tsang. Some interpreted this
event as a farcical development orchestrated by Tsang to intimidate Beijing in
order to obtain a favorable decision. It apparently didn't work.
Observers noted that the official Xinhua News Agency republished Deng
Xiaoping's speech on Hong Kong originally delivered in 1984, and editorialized
in several articles to rebuke the farcical visit of Tsang, who arrived at the
wrong time and was left cooling his heels. The press claimed, "The farce will
unavoidably be replayed, unless the opposing voice [presumably Tsang's] is
Most important, the People’s Daily published an article saying Beijing was not
going to tolerate any "conspiracy" aimed at forcing the central government to
allow more democracy in Hong Kong. Although the article did not specifically
refer to Tsang, some analysts have linked the article to his futile trip.
However, my enemy's enemy is my friend, as the saying goes. The situation has
undergone a U-turn, as Hu Jintao, who seems to favor Tsang, continues to
consolidate his power base.
Yang Wengchang, commissioner of China's Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, when
attending the spring cocktail party held by Beijing's liaison office in Hong
Kong, pointed out that the central government will accept any candidate for the
chief executive, so long as he or she wins majority support among Hong Kong's
people. Yang's remarks were interpreted as Beijing's acquiescence in Donald
Tsang once asserted that he was content, devoid of political ambition, and
planned to retire at the expiration of his service in 2007. Whether he will
relinquish this idea and serve Hong Kong longer by running to be the next chief
executive remains an intriguing question.
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