21 September 2019
Henry Tang (foreground, center) raises a toast with political and business heavyweights during the inauguration ceremony of the Hong Kong Jiangsu Community Organizations Federation on Wednesday. Photo: HKEJ
Henry Tang (foreground, center) raises a toast with political and business heavyweights during the inauguration ceremony of the Hong Kong Jiangsu Community Organizations Federation on Wednesday. Photo: HKEJ

Why Henry Tang isn’t fading away

What is Henry Tang up to?

The former chief secretary, who lost out to Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 chief executive election, made a big splash Wednesday by launching a new organization that aims to “serve the community”.

In an event attended by several heavyweights from political and business circles, Tang inaugurated the Federation of Hong Kong Jiangsu Community Organizations, an entity that will promote the well-being of Hong Kong.

The high-profile ceremony made it clear that Tang has no plans to quietly fade from the scene.

The official denied that he intends to throw his hat into the ring again for Hong Kong’s top job in 2017, or that he even wants to play a kingmaker.

But that hasn’t stopped speculation that the former No. 2 may have something up his sleeve.

Tang, who had served as chief secretary between 2007 and 2011 and as finance secretary before that, has demonstrated that he still wields tremendous clout and influence in high circles.

Several business tycoons who supported Tang during the 2012 chief executive election continue to view him favorably.

As Leung has failed to win over Tang’s backers after the election, this has effectively given rise to two camps within the local business community.

Although Tang has no official role in Hong Kong now, many tycoons have been working under the table to bring him back to the front line, or at least get him to make public pronouncements relevant to the community.

Thus, the inauguration ceremony Wednesday for the HK-Jiangsu community organizations federation provided a good platform to achieve that, and for Tang to show off his personal connections with the political and business sectors.

Tang said the new federation will be a “platform to serve the community”, apart from its headline mission of promoting greater business links between Hong Kong and China’s Jiangsu province.

While Tang will head the association, he has named several top businessmen as honorary presidents.

The high-profile figures include Peter Woo, former chairman of The Wharf (Holdings); Charles Ho, chairman of Sing Tao Newspaper Group; James Tien, honorary chairman of the Liberal Party; Henry Cheng, New World Development chairman; David Li, chairman of Bank of East Asia; and Joseph Yam, former chief of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

Among others, Justin Chiu, executive director of CK Hutchison Group, is a deputy vice president.

All the big names are familiar to the public as they had backed Tang in the 2012 election. While some like Henry Cheng and Charles Ho appeared to be supporting Leung after the election, the others are still keen supporters of Tang.

Top government officials also graced the federation’s launch ceremony. The list included acting Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Financial Secretary John Tsang and Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming. Leung was absent as he is on vacation.

The high-profile event has stoked speculation that the former chief secretary was reviving his political ambitions.

Tang denied that he plans to run for the top post in 2017, but indicated that he might pick and nurture some federation members with good potential to be “political talents”.

“We can nurture some political talent within the federation in the future, I hope we can achieve this,” he said.

One cannot say what role the association might play in the upcoming chief executive election, but going by the guests of honor at Wednesday’s event, it is likely that it will serve as a tool for Beijing to unite the fragmented business sector.

Some political observers have speculated that the new federation is an idea of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, as the central government wants the internal disputes among business tycoons settled before the 2017 election.

If the differences are sorted out, it would help the pro-Beijing camp gather more support for selected candidates in the nominating process. This will ensure that the preferred candidates will win with significant majority, rather than just thin margin.

This is not the first time that Beijing is seeking to bring the business sector together in a bid to “build a harmonious society” in Hong Kong.

Tung Chee-hwa, the former chief executive, had earlier established “Our Hong Kong Foundation” to play such role, and has made public comments on the electoral reform policies.

Tang, too, said Wednesday that he would like the current political reform bill to be passed by the legislature and that he hopes that pan-democrats will work with the government. 

Now, we come to this question: Is Tang just trying to do his bit for the community or does he intend to reenter the political stage?

We should get the answer in a few months.

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EJ Insight writer