HK leadership fight kicks off amid bitter divisions

21-Jan-2017 Intellasia | FT | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Race heats up as Chinese territory faces economic woes and growing separatist movement

The race to be the next leader of Hong Kong is heating up in a pivotal contest that will highlight Beijing’s attitude to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as it struggles with a sluggish economy, deep political discord and a growing separatist movement.

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John Tsang, who recently resigned as Hong Kong’s financial secretary, on Thursday became the fourth person to declare candidacy for the chief executive position, which will be selected in March by a 1,194-member committee dominated by pro-Beijing politicians and businesspeople.

The other candidates are Carrie Lam, who was formerly Hong Kong’s number two official, Regina Ip, another former senior official, and Woo Kwok-hing, a former judge.

“We need to check the disruptive elements that threaten to curb our growth,” said Tsang, warning of the risks from political polarisation and what he called “irrational talk of independence”.

Tsang, a career civil servant who studied in the US, suggested the Hong Kong and Beijing governments needed to take a softer approach to the pro-democracy opposition, warning that current problems cannot be resolved by “mere force and aggression” and that the authorities “must refrain from undue interference”.

Current chief executive CY Leung, who is stepping down at the end of his five-year term, is deeply unpopular. He is blamed for failing to rein in the world’s least affordable housing prices and supporting increasing meddling by Beijing despite the “high degree of autonomy” promised to the former British colony when it was handed back to China in 1997.

To win in March, candidates have first to be nominated by 150 members of the election committee and then get more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Although the ballot is secret, political analysts say Beijing usually supports one candidate and leans on the establishment members of the committee to vote accordingly.

There is still an element of uncertainty, however, as just over 300 of the 1,194 electors support the democracy movement and some of the establishment members may vote against Beijing’s recommendation.

“It is possible a candidate that Beijing didn’t prefer could win, but very unlikely,” said Mathew Wong, an associate professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong.

Analysts believe Ms Lam, who is seen as a more uncompromising figure than Tsang, is Beijing’s preferred choice. She has received favourable reporting by pro-establishment newspapers and has high-profile roles in a number of recent initiatives backed by the Chinese government.

But China’s Communist government does not usually give clear public signals, preferring to work through agents of its shadowy Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

Ivan Choy, a lecturer in politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the outcome of the process would show whether Beijing will take a softer approach to the territory, or stick to the hard line that analysts say is alienating many young people. “If John Tsang wins, then it means Beijing is adjusting its policy on Hong Kong,” he said. “But if Carrie Lam gets it, it is likely to remain the same.”


Category: Hong Kong

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