19 October 2018
After months of rest, it appears former financial secretary John Tsang could no longer fight the itch to return to the spotlight. Photo: HKEJ
After months of rest, it appears former financial secretary John Tsang could no longer fight the itch to return to the spotlight. Photo: HKEJ

Tsang can’t afford to remain wishy-washy

Ever since the chief executive election in March, former financial secretary John Tsang has retired totally from public life.

However, after months of rest, it appears he could no longer fight the itch to come back. Then finally, he made his much eagerly awaited return to the spotlight on Tuesday by appearing on a radio talk show on current affairs.

And the timing was rather sensitive: he appeared on the radio program on the same day as Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration unveiled the details of the highly controversial “co-location arrangement” at the Hong Kong terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, thereby arousing widespread suspicions that his return to the spotlight was coincidental.

During the radio interview, Tsang not only talked about his retirement life and upcoming plans, but also, as expected, weighed in on the hotly disputed co-location arrangement.

It is perhaps logical to infer that Carrie Lam and her spin doctors would probably have paid close attention to Tsang’s views on the issue because given his high popularity, what he had to say could substantially influence public opinion on the co-location arrangement.

However, those who had expected Tsang to be highly critical of the issue or drop some provocative remarks during the interview were probably disappointed. It is because throughout the program, even though Tsang did talk a lot about the co-location arrangement, his stance on the issue was both equivocal and ambiguous.

Simply put, he might have spent a lot of time expressing his views on the matter, but given the lack of substance in his words and his unwillingness to take positions on the issue, it was as if he had said nothing at all.

Tsang might have been deliberately equivocal on the co-location arrangement and adopted a “wait-and-see” tactic because after all, it still remains unclear how the saga would play out in the days ahead and whether public opinion would turn in favor of — or against — the policy. As such, it was perhaps a smart move for Tsang not to take sides at this point.

Yet the problem is, if Tsang is really determined to make a political comeback and boost his own popularity in the coming days, it is inevitable that he will have to take strong positions on hotly disputed issues such as the disqualification of localist lawmakers and the upcoming Legco by-elections.

If Tsang continues to be evasive and wishy-washy on controversial issues in order to avoid trouble, it is likely that his supporters could run out of patience with him, and it wouldn’t be long before his fans start asking him: “Where’s the beef?”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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