Senior officials in Beijing are doing their best to tone down expectations that former chief secretary Carrie Lam is the anointed one.
The latest attempt came on the sidelines of the “two sessions” in Beijing when Wang Guangya, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, publicly commented on the chief executive election for the first time. He played down rumors that Lam is Beijing’s preferred candidate.
“The chief executive election is a matter for the central government,” Wang told journalists. “It is reasonable for the central government to be concerned.”
Wang also repeated the criteria for the next chief executive – loving the country and Hong Kong, trust from Beijing, an ability to govern and support from Hongkongers.
“The standards were not laid down today,” he said.
On Wednesday, pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Pao published a commentary saying Zhang Xiaoming, head of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, was the source of rumors regarding Lam’s purported choice by Beijing.
The “green light” was supposed to have been given as soon as Lam expressed interest in the position shortly after chief executive Leung Chun-ying said he would not be seeking reelection.
In fact, it was the Liaison Office that was behind a campaign to get Lam nominated. At the same time, it led efforts to portray her rivals — former financial secretary John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing — in an unfavorable light.
Pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao continue to devote negative coverage to Tsang’s campaign.
Interestingly, Zhang denied making any comments about Lam being Beijing’s choice.
Still, the Liaison Office was reported to have stepped up a charm offensive to narrow the gap between Lam and Tsang in public opinion surveys.
Zhang’s change of tone may hint that no decision has been made on the matter by the only person that matters in this regard — President Xi Jinping.
Against this backdrop, a veteran pro-Beijing loyalist is weighing in.
Former lawmaker Chan Yuen-han has criticized Lam’s campaign twice this week after several media outlets reported that National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office pushed for Lam to be the “only” preferred candidate of the politburo.
That raised concern that Beijing is ramping up its activities to meddle in the election.
In a media interview published on Wednesday, Chan said she disagrees with what pro-Beijing loyalists have done to support Lam. She said they have not been as involved in previous elections.
She also said Zhang has not said he supports Lam. All this could be a tactic to set the stage for Lam’s eventual victory.
While the whole pro-Beijing camp continues to build up Lam, it remains to be seen whether the central government is on board, Chan said.
In a column published in a local Chinese free newspaper on Monday, Chan criticised a candidate for trying to steer clear of others, such as by saying “they did not help me”, “I run alone” and “I am independent”. She did not mention Lam by name.
She said such candidate is an opportunist giving different versions of their remarks when meeting different groups.
“Candidates should have the courage to demonstrate their beliefs and admit to the help they have received,” Chan wrote.
“It is very normal to receive assistance from the pro-establishment bloc and people close to the central government in the wide political spectrum. Electoral committee members were looking for a candidate who truly agreed with its beliefs instead of someone who came only for help.”
Chan’s stance opposing Lam is by no means a majority opinion but it could mean that Beijing may yet decide to leave the matter to the 1,200 members of the Election Committee.
That means all that purported lobbying by Zhang Dejiang and Zhang Xiaoming amounts to nothing.
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