Is Jasper Tsang ready to take on bigger mission?

November 20, 2019 12:34
Jasper Tsang (inset) helped in the negotiations that led to underage protesters being allowed to leave the PolyU campus. Photo: AFP/RTHK News

Not too many political leaders are like Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who could enter the Hong Kong Polytechnic University at the height of the standoff between police and protesters on Monday without getting a taste of tear gas and come out unscathed with about a hundred of the sleepless and hungry student warriors in tow.

Tsang, erstwhile head of the Legislative Council, was allowed to enter the besieged campus, along with University of Hong Kong law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming and several secondary school principals, to persuade the protesters to leave.

Of course, Hong Kong's embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, could not do that. She told reporters that she wanted a peaceful resolution of the PolyU drama, but she wouldn't try to go there for fear of upsetting more people.

And so on Monday night Tsang took it upon himself to play the role of a negotiator and try to prevent bloodshed.

But word quickly spread around that he went there because he was trying to look for someone named “Zhu Yuan”.

Some social media posts suggested that Zhu Yuan was the great-granddaughter of former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, but Tsang, through his assistant, denied that.

The rumor emerged after Tsang, upon arriving on the campus, asked some volunteers if they had seen a student named Zhu Yuan.

But it was later clarified that he was looking for Chu Yuan, a Hong Kong-born girl who has no relation whatsoever to any of the Chinese officials, past or present. Apparently, the pro-Beijing politician had been asked by the girl's family to look for her and help her leave the campus.

Tsang reaped praises from many people for his intercession at the PolyU standoff, which resulted in the underage protesters being allowed to leave and go home – the government may decide to file charges against them later on.

With his mission at PolyU somehow accomplished, the 72-year-old Tsang now faces a bigger question: Will he be the one to lead Hong Kong out of the chaos?

Tsang, of course, decided not to run in the 2017 chief executive election, although he has always been considered a formidable contender for the top job.

A founding member of Hong Kong's largest political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tsang has enjoyed relatively immense popularity among local residents. But after he retired as Legco president in 2016, he did not take up any public role.

With his role at the PolyU saga another feather in his cap, Tsang looks like good material for Beijing's Plan B, that is, to succeed Carrie Lam, who, after triggering Hong Kong's most serious political crisis in decades, has so far failed to bring the city back to normal.

Businessman Allan Zeman, the chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, is but one of the many who believe Beijing may replace Lam before her term ends in 2022.

“It is quite possible – I mean, we have seen it happen," Zeman told a TV program on Tuesday. "I am sure they are not happy with what’s going on in Hong Kong at the moment, but who knows?”

At the moment, though, Tsang has his hands full trying to help his political party to garner votes in this Sunday's District Council elections.

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EJ Insight writer