It’s been more than a week since John Tsang announced his resignation as financial secretary, a move seen as a precursor for him to join the 2017 chief executive race.
But as of now, there’s still no word from Beijing as to whether the resignation has been accepted.
This has left Tsang’s campaign for the top job hanging in the balance, making him lose ground to rivals who have declared their candidacies or indicated that they will throw their hats into the ring.
Meanwhile, there is speculation as to what lies behind the delay in processing Tsang’s resignation and whether the approval is being stalled deliberately.
The doubts are understandable as it’s no secret that Beijing harbors some misgivings about Tsang, given the perceived support he enjoys from opposition groups.
Now, there’s also a rumor that it may be actually be Tsang’s boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who may be blocking the finance chief’s departure from the government.
A political gossip column published Monday in a pro-Leung newspaper had some interesting things to say as to why Tsang’s resignation is yet to be approved by Beijing authorities.
The column pointed out that when it comes to dealing with resignations of senior officials, it’s the chief executive who normally processes the papers before the matter is passed on to Beijing.
But in the case of Tsang, a Hong Kong government press release hasn’t mentioned anything about whether Leung approved the Tsang resignation.
It could mean that Leung may be sitting on the matter, preventing central authorities from taking a quick decision.
The article cited several examples to suggest that Tsang’s papers are getting held up unusually.
It was pointed out that in the case of former chief secretary Henry Tang, who took part in the 2012 CE election, his resignation was accepted by Beijing in just two days after he submitted the papers.
Though there had been a few instances of delayed approvals in the past — such as the case pertaining to then commerce secretary Frederick Ma in 2008, when Beijing took 30 days to clear his resignation — the indecision on Tsang does seem out of the ordinary.
As the 2017 CE race is heating up, with New People’s Party chief Regina Ip declaring her candidacy and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam saying she could consider entering the fray, joining retired judge Woo Kwok-hing who is already in the field, Hongkongers are waiting for Tsang to join the contest.
Tsang, with his liberal views, genial demeanor and high popularity, will definitely make for a better CE than the pro-establishment Ip and Lam, many citizens feel.
As for Woo, no one really believes, at least for now, that he has a real chance of winning enough votes from the nomination committee to make it to the final stage of the 2017 election.
This is why opposition groups are expressing concern at the delay in approval of Tsang’s resignation.
Without clearance from Beijing, Tsang cannot formally announce his candidacy or launch his campaign.
Leung has announced that he won’t seek a second term, leaving the establishment with other choices from pro-Beijing candidates.
Although Leung has said that he has notified Beijing immediately of Tsang’s resignation — which was announced on Dec. 12 — the chief executive hasn’t made any mention of acceptance of the plan.
There is good reason to believe that he is dragging his feet on the matter as he and his allies are not too keen on Tsang joining the CE contest.
Now, we come to this question: is Leung acting on own or is he playing a game at the behest of Beijing?
From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem that Beijing has held up the Tsang resignation as the top Communist leaders don’t fully trust the Hong Kong finance chief.
But is that the full truth?
Is Tsang’s resignation letter still sitting in the in-tray at Leung’s office and yet to be passed on to Beijing?
This is what some people believe, as they suspect that an attempt is being made to derail the finance secretary’s bid for the top job, or at least hold it up for a while.
Pro-establishment figures have made quite a few uncharitable remarks about Tsang in recent days.
Ip, for instance, accused Tsang of being overly conservative in dealing with the government’s fiscal surplus. She compared her academic background with Tsang, attempting to convince the public that she is better equipped to handle economic issues than Tsang.
Carrie Lam, meanwhile, has suggested that it will be better to continue with Leung’s policies going forward.
Other pro-Beijing loyalists — like former Legislative Council chief Jasper Tsang and information coordinator Andrew Fung — have said that they hope the direction set by the Leung administration will prevail in the coming years.
Though Leung won’t be in office for a new term, his policies should continue so as to help Beijing contain separatist forces and bring Hong Kong firmly under Chinese rule, the loyalists say.
There is no doubt that Leung loyalists are aiming to set the election agenda and dictate the new government’s policy approach.
What they want to ensure is that Hong Kong’s next leader will be resolute in his/her political loyalty to Beijing and put the mainland’s national interests above everything else.
Taking a tough stance against radical opposition groups and separatist elements is seen as the main agenda, while other issues such as housing, healthcare and education are only secondary.
As we await the decision on whether Tsang will be allowed to join the CE race, there will be plenty of speculation as to what will eventually happen in relation to the 2017 contest.
Pro-Beijing loyalists will continue to make the usual noises until Beijing finally reveals its cards.
Whatever happens, one thing is clear at the moment: Leung is not too happy about giving up his job next year.
If he can’t make it, he can at least try to stall Tsang — that may be his thinking.
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