Hong Kong’s former financial secretary, in a rare show of sympathy for his ex-political rival Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has said anyone in the top job would need to enforce decisions he or she might not personally agree with.
John Tsang Chun-wah was speaking at a University of Hong Kong forum on Thursday. He remained tight-lipped on his former colleague, to whom he lost in the city’s leadership race last year, but explained why he never made public his views on her performance.
“I do understand how much room and constraints there are within the government system, and whoever is in Lam’s position would face similar difficulties,” Tsang told a full house at the event, with 400 students and alumni in attendance.
Asked by host and his former political aide Julian Law Wing-chung whether he felt Lam had no choice but to crack down on separatism in Hong Kong, Tsang said the chief executive would have to make decisions “often not to his or her own liking” on a range of issues.
I do understand how much room and constraints there are within the government system
John Tsang, former finance chief
Pressed on whether this included the recently proposed ban on the Hong Kong National Party, Tsang said “you could say so” but did not elaborate.
Tsang served nine years as the city’s finance chief until he resigned in December 2016 to run in the chief executive election of March the following year.
After the unsuccessful bid, Tsang, who hinged his campaign on the message of hope and unity, remained popular, with wide speculation on his next step.
But he has since stayed clear of politics and concentrated his efforts in financial technology and start-ups, including launching a social enterprise, Esperanza, to help young entrepreneurs start a business.
On Thursday, Tsang again shot down the suggestion of a political comeback or another bid for the top job in the next leadership race in 2022.
“The first run is always full of passion. To do it a second time is like banging one’s own fists against the wall,” he said.
He observed that political polarisation remained after Lam took office, but called on all sides to work to improve the situation.
While he remained reserved about Lam, Tsang was notably more open on his political differences with his former boss and previous chief executive Leung Chun-ying. He conceded that his conflicting views with Leung on governance spurred him to resign and join the election to fight for greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
On a lighter note, Tsang and Law took a jab at Leung by recalling the former leader’s heavy-handed response when Tsang was accidentally hit by an egg meant for Leung and thrown by a protester at a 2013 town hall.
Law said of Tsang, who was not hurt in the incident: “He was joking there could be salmonella in the eggs and that he might sue the activist for murder.”
Leung at the time, however, condemned the move and an ambulance was summoned as Tsang was escorted to the washroom to clean up. The latter declined a trip to the hospital and carried on with the event.
At Thursday’s forum, Tsang quipped: “I’ve always known the activist was not coming after me, but Leung.”
He also poked fun at Lam and her predecessor, both of whom were known to be stoic politicians. Tsang recommended they listen to Disney song Let it Go from the film Frozen.