Prior to Sunday’s chief executive election, many Hongkongers had entertained the belief that John Tsang could pull an upset and win.
His supporters, including those who formed the large crowds at his open bus rally on the eve of the poll, had hoped that Tsang could beat all the odds, even though Beijing’s script had long been written.
Party cadres had been dropping hints that Tsang was never their trusted henchman and should not even have joined the race.
Still, hopes that Tsang had a fighting chance persisted until the last minute before Carrie Lam was officially rubber-stamped to be Hong Kong’s next leader.
One lesson from this whole affair is that Hongkongers who are not members of the elite Election Committee should not have taken this election too seriously.
Instead, they should have paid more heed to the “warm reminders” from Beijing lackeys in town, when gauging the chances of success of their preferred candidate.
Two days before the election, Lo Man-tuen, an outspoken member of the local leftist camp, articulated what could be Beijing’s true sentiments about Tsang in a long commentary in Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper owned by a patriotic tycoon.
“Tsang has weaseled in matters of principle and defied Beijing’s will,” said Lo, who is also a deputy director of the foreign affairs subcommittee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Lo’s column, of course, didn’t deter Tsang from launching a high-profile, seven-hour bus parade last Saturday.
Sing Tao boss Charles Ho, one of the 1,194 members of the Election Committee, echoed Lo’s column on election day and told reporters, unequivocally, that he would go for Lam.
And since no miracle happened on Sunday, Tsang’s supporters need to ask themselves the question: Why doesn’t Beijing trust Tsang?
“Beijing has already warned Tsang off, and he himself is aware of Beijing’s disapproval, yet he is still bent on spreading words like ‘there’s no reason for Beijing not to trust me’, citing his many years in government as a key official and even President Xi Jinping’s handshake with him at a key function,” Lo wrote in his Sing Tao article.
Quoting an “authoritative person very close to the top leadership”, Lo said Beijing’s trust for a person for Hong Kong’s top office is “the utmost political trust” and Tsang’s record in words and deeds gives Beijing no confidence in him.
The “authoritative person” is believed to be Wang Guangya, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, or Zhang Xiaoming, chief of Beijing’s Liaison Office.
“Tsang is not seen as steadfast when it comes to principles or bottom lines, like absenting himself from the government’s campaign against Occupy Central in 2014 and denunciation of the Mong Kok riot two years later… On the contrary, he once even showed approval of the dystopian, separatist movie Ten Years.
“Beijing saw local officials’ stance against Occupy as a test of loyalty and commitment, a test that Tsang failed… He was seen coy about siding with the central authorities. How can Beijing rely on him if there is another Occupy?” Lo asked.
The article also cited Tsang’s lackluster performance as Hong Kong’s finance chief.
“His estimation of government’s fiscal situation went off mark every year … He was quite laid-back and seldom participated in Executive Council discussions and many of his colleagues lamented his indolence. He favored tycoons and neglected the poor, thinking social welfare is a liability.
“Hong Kong needs a proactive leader to root out all its problems, from housing to income disparity, but Tsang is not qualified.”
‘Top leaders surprised by Tsang’s defiance’
Tsang’s perceived incompetence is not the only reason for Beijing’s veto. Lo also highlighted Tsang’s tendency to be disobedient.
“Top leaders were somehow surprised when Tsang announced his bid in January, after they have conveyed, through multiple channels, their reservations. The 30-plus days of delay in Beijing’s approval of his resignation was a tacit no-go in itself. How can we expect him to implement Beijing’s instructions when he becomes the CE?”
It was revealed that during an official visit to Beijing last December, Tsang agreed to remain on the sidelines to ensure a smooth run for Lam, but he changed his mind and joined the race not too long after returning to Hong Kong, catching many state leaders off guard.
Beijing’s assessment following Tsang’s U-turn was that he had become a proxy of the opposition.
Lo said Beijing was further incensed by Washington’s veiled backing for Tsang, through Martin Lee, Anson Chan and Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily.
Lee and Chan first sounded the call-out to all pan-democrats to endorse Tsang while Apple Daily also lost no time in whipping up public support for him.
It was also reported that Tsang met a close relative of Lai in January.
Lo wrote: “Beijing adopts a liberal mind when different interest groups of society vie to exert more influence on candidates, but top leaders will never sit idle and let foreign powers meddle in Hong Kong affairs when they wrest control of the territory, a battle that Beijing must not lose.
“Tsang once worked for Chris Patten yet Beijing had never been hidebound but instead entrusted him with senior posts. However, Beijing’s trust for the chief executive goes beyond the kind of trust for principal officials.
“Beijing has agreed to appoint a few democrats as secretaries or heads of bureaus (like Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung, who was a deputy chairperson of the Democratic Party), but it doesn’t mean Beijing can trust any of them to lead the SAR. Beijing must raise the bar for chief executive candidates.”
What’s the meaning of a handshake?
Senior cadres had long been vocal about their blessings for Lam, yet the Tsang camp still subscribed to the illusion that there existed some dissension in Zhongnanhai and Xi still favored Tsang, based on the supreme leader’s “meaningful” handshake with him.
“It’s a laughable fallacy, and those who buy it are either naïve or have no idea about Chinese politics,” Lo wrote.
“All decisions are collective decisions with the endorsement from the top leader. Lam was the only preferred candidate and it was the collective decision by the party’s Politburo.
“As for the much interpreted handshake, it was merely the president’s courtesy for the Hong Kong representative at an official occasion, and nothing else.”
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