Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah could be a good candidate for Hong Kong’s chief executive.
The understanding and respect he has shown to youngsters and his efforts to uphold the city’s core value of respecting different opinions have earned him applause from Hongkongers, especially after his boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, tried to suppress different views on democracy from the city’s youth.
The split between Tsang and Leung resurfaced during Tsang’s budget speech, this time not over government spending but on how to rebuild the trust of the public toward the government.
Tsang showed respect in his speech for the younger generation’s quest for “spiritual contentment” beyond society’s preoccupation with economic advancement.
Hongkongers can feel the difference between Tsang’s budget speech Wednesday and Leung’s policy address last month.
The overall impression is that Tsang is speaking as a Hongkonger who shares the same values as other Hongkongers, respects different opinions and encourages dialogue with the next generation about the city’s future.
When Leung used his speech to condemn the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union publication Undergrad for promoting self-determination for the city, a topic Leung forbids Hongkongers to discuss, it seemed he was speaking on behalf of the leaders in Beijing rather than the people of Hong Kong.
Tsang, who earned his master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, has a completely different philosophy with regard to governing Hong Kong.
He comes across as being a public servant dedicated to the city.
As he said in his budget speech, “People here have different opinions, different likes and dislikes, and different faiths. But, we can still live together harmoniously, and our society can still operate effectively.”
Hong Kong has indeed run smoothly in past decades, even though people have different views on every issue, from politics to economic development to education.
All those views could be voiced and shared in different channels, and the government bore the responsibility of fine-tuning its policies accordingly.
But now, under Leung’s rule, Hong Kong is no longer the same as before.
Leung draws a red line, forbidding Hongkongers to raise their own views on issues related to Beijing, such as the 2017 political reform and sovereignty for Hong Kong. Discussion on political development, Leung says, should follow Beijing’s framework.
That’s in contrast to Tsang’s call “to remain objective, rational and pragmatic in handling disagreements”.
There has been speculation for a long time that Leung wanted to replace Tsang as financial secretary so as to allow him access to the city’s huge financial reserves for his ambitious policies.
However, the central government continues to rely on Tsang and his team, a vote of confidence in Tsang for his professionalism in public finance.
Under Leung’s rule,the atmosphere in Hong Kong has been negative in every aspect, from political development to education.
Leung would like to turn Hong Kong into a city like those in the mainland, with no tolerance of any views against the central government.
That is reflected in his speech condemning the discussion among youngsters of self-determination for Hong Kong, as well as his turning of a deaf ear to the Occupy protesters late last year.
Tsang indirectly took on Leung regarding dealing with the younger generation.
“Conflicts should be resolved through conversation rather than confrontation, and this is the point that we all must come to terms with,” Tsang said.
Against this backdrop, Tsang has budgeted more than HK$1 billion to boost creative industries like fashion, film and the arts, in an attempt to help young Hongkongers to stand out amid fierce global competition.
That’s also a completely different approach from Leung’s suggestion that Hong Kong’s youth should turn to the north for more opportunities in the mainland, always stressing that their future is in China.
As a well-trained government bureaucrat, Tsang knows the techniques for striking a balance between the government and the public interest.
While he did not calculate the negative impact of the Occupy movement, he offered some sweeteners to the industries affected, as well as increasing payments to people with lower incomes.
These moves have helped him earn the appreciation of Hongkongers and show he is able to be a better leader for the city.
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