John Tsang has said it, finally, that he is going to run for Hong Kong’s top job.
He and his team had bided their time until the day came, and if you think his campaign press conference on Thursday afternoon was just as dull as the 30 plus days of waiting for mainland cadres to approve his resignation, you are wrong.
As Tsang declared his long-awaited bid for the chief executive race, the audience that packed the chamber inside a Central skyscraper, called Champion Tower, was always distracted by Tsang’s own Mr. Pringles-like mascot on the back of his smartphone.
And, during the Q&A, some reporters, somehow habitually, still addressed him “Mr. Secretary”. People burst into laughter when Tsang blew his signature moustache and grimaced in protest.
Perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek retort, the ex-financial secretary later called Rebecca Lai, a former senior official and now director of his election campaign office, “director of the Chief Executive’s Office”, provoking another chuckle. He has been dropping hints that his political career would never end on a ministerial level.
Tsang also took the opportunity to dismiss rumors that Beijing has turned its back on him.
When asked why he had to wait for Beijing’s nod and if he was told not to run and offered instead some other posts in compensation, like a deputy president at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, he said those that spread the rumors had no idea about the procedure or the bank.
“I always respect rules and I can only announce my campaign after I have received the central government’s approval… [AIIB] is not a Chinese bank and Beijing cannot appoint just anybody to its governing body,” said Tsang.
Make other people envy Hong Kong
Against a backdrop plastered with words like “trust”, “hope” and “unity”, Tsang told the packed hall that the reason for his bid was that he didn’t want Hong Kong people to emigrate.
With a benign tone, he said he feels sad when hearing young people talking about emigrating from the city and that he had a great deal of soul-searching.
“Thirty-four years ago, many people left amid an unsettled future when the Sino-British negotiations started. Today we are seeing a new wave of exits. My family moved to the United States in the 1960s and I know how hard life could be for emigres.
“Hongkongers are among the world’s longest living people but many surveys show they are not happy… I have big dreams for this city of ours and together I know that we can overcome the many challenges that stand in our way and make people in other parts of the world envy Hong Kong.”
Feedback from netizens are generally positive, with some saying Mr. Pringles has touched a chord among them.
These words are meant for the city’s rank-and-file and Tsang also has to signal his allegiance to Beijing, when his opponents have been taking a gibe at his political reliability.
The first stance to take is the one against — in his own words — “the occasional irrational talk of independence”.
“A great city has a strong country [behind it]. Without Britain, there would not have been London. Without the US, there would not have been New York. Hong Kong can become better because it is embracing a great motherland.”
He said he returned to Hong Kong 34 years ago out of his love for the motherland.
“[Separatists] do not know what Hong Kong is because China has forever been the core of Hongkongers’ identity.”
Tsang also hit back at the blame that he “half-arsed” his job as financial chief in the past nine and half years.
“I really can’t recall any big achievement of mine as everything was done by the team, not by a single person… and we’d rather have everything done beforehand rather than having a big crisis, or an emergency to tackle as otherwise the cost can be very high.
“When we stay ready and proactively handle a situation, we can prevent it from becoming a crisis but people may have the impression that we are not doing too many things.”
Perhaps people should not forget that Hong Kong sailed through the 2008 financial tsunami without any major upheavals under his watch.
Asked if he plans to lunch constitutional reform after moving into Tamar, Tsang said it would be like “banging your head against a wall” if people’s sentiments haven’t changed too much compared with 2014.
“Hong Kong needs a respite, and first and foremost, we need to restore trust and confidence.”
Soon after the two-hour conference that would otherwise have been longer if the moderator hadn’t called it off, Tsang posted several behind-the-scenes photos on his Facebook page, including one of his wife tying his tie before he takes stage.
In another one, his son, Terrence, is seen applying some essential oil on his father’s head to help him relax. There’s also a 360-degree VR photo of the conference venue.
His post got more than 23,000 likes, hearts and smiling faces.
Meanwhile, Carrie Lam, Tsang’s arch rival in the race, said she never uses Facebook nor is she going to embrace any social networking tools for her own campaign.
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