Could the ouster of Tsang and Tang be just a red herring?

July 28, 2015 13:27
Newly appointed Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah appears to be a logical choice as elections loom. Photo: Bloomberg

Around two weeks ago, local political and business circles were abuzz with the question of whether Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would be forced to step down due to his failure to push the political reform package through the Legislative Council.

Lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip of People Power predicted that Leung would resign as early as January next year.

On July 13th, CY Leung met with National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, after which Leung told media, rather smugly, that Zhang praised him highly and was very satisfied with his work.

However, neither the official Xinhua News Agency nor other Communist Party mouthpieces mentioned anything about the “praise” Leung claimed to have received.

On the contrary, rumors had it that Zhang’s office had ordered that paragraphs on Zhang’s recognition of Leung’s performance be removed from the official press release.

Last Friday, Zhang met with a delegation from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) in Beijing, after which DAB chairperson Starry Lee Wai-king did not respond directly to reporters' questions on whether Zhang had told them to support CY Leung.

Meanwhile, RTHK quoted Lee as saying that Zhang asked them “to support the SAR Government in administering Hong Kong in accordance with the law”.

The two leading pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kong Pao, did not mention anything about Zhang’s support for Leung on their front page stories either.

A day after DAB’s Beijing visit, Ta Kong Pao published an article saying that during the meeting Zhang repeatedly asked the DAB “to support Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration in governing Hong Kong in accordance with the law”.

On the same day, Ming Pao Daily cited various sources saying that the NPC chairman was “very explicit about supporting Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying” during the meeting with the DAB delegation.

Sing Tao Daily News also reported that Zhang asked the DAB to support Leung several times. It also quoted some “attendees” in the meeting as saying “Chairman Zhang described supporting Leung as the same as supporting Hong Kong”.

It remains a mystery why there are different versions of what Zhang actually said about Leung during his meeting with the DAB delegation.

Did he actually express his own support for Leung and ask the DAB to do so in no uncertain terms?

Is it possible that the pro-Beijing media was deliberately downplaying what Zhang had said? Or could his words have been misrepresented by some of Leung’s supporters in the DAB delegation in order to serve certain political purposes?

There is no way the people of Hong Kong can find out the truth.

Last Tuesday, the government announced that Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing and Secretary for Civil Service Paul Tang Kwok-wei resigned from their posts and would be succeeded by Lau Kong-wah and Clement Cheung Wan-ching respectively.

The surprise announcement sparked speculation that another wave of resignations from the cabinet was in the offing, or that Tsang and Tang might just have been made the scapegoats for Leung's own failures.

On the same day, Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, Tsang Tak-sing’s elder brother, said he didn’t believe his brother tendered his resignation of his own accord, further fueling rumors that the two bureau chiefs were actually sacked by CY Leung and did not voluntarily resigned.

Some said it was in fact a politically motivated move directed against Jasper Tsang, who was widely tipped as a potential chief executive hopeful in the 2017 election.

This conspiracy theory was perhaps partially proved by Jasper Tsang’s remarks during a radio show that “if I were 10 years younger, I would run for chief executive, to see how you guys are going to gang up on me”.

Both Beijing and the SAR government are taking the upcoming District Council and Legco elections very seriously, and are determined to do whatever it takes to help the pro-establishment camp to win as many seats as possible.

Given that, it sounds logical to designate Lau Kong-wah, a seasoned politician and an expert in election campaigns in the leftist camp, to take over as secretary for home affairs.

This key appointment can not only tip the political balance in favor of the pro-establishment camp but also pose a certain degree of psychological threat to the pan-democrats.

However, it remains to be seen whether this political purpose is worth the sacrifice of two bureau chiefs, and whether it was just a red herring to divert public attention while Leung is actually up to something else.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal