Chief executive contender Regina Ip said on Sunday that she is more qualified than her potential opponents, as she has a better understanding of democracy and economics.

“I think I have a better grasp of theories of democracy [than other candidates], because I have really been coached by prominent democracy scholar Larry Diamond, even though it is difficult to implement his suggestions in Hong Kong – and he also knows that,” Ip said on a Commercial Radio programme.

Larry Diamond (L) and Regina Ip (R).

‘Independent thinking’

Diamond is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. In 2003, Ip pursued a master’s degree in East Asian Studies at Stanford under Diamond’s supervision, after stepping down as security secretary in light of mass demonstrations against the controversial Article 23 security law.

Diamond is critical of Hong Kong’s political development. He previously described Beijing’s 2014 electoral reform package tailored for Hong Kong as “an insult to the intelligence of the Hong Kong public,” and likened the proposed system to Iran’s elections.

The scholar also warned against Beijing’s tightening control over Hong Kong and ruling on the oath controversy. In response, Ip said Diamond’s view was unfounded and unreasonable, and criticised his lack of understanding of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Besides her education background, Ip said she has strong independent thinking skills and that she would not blindly listen to the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s powerful organ in Hong Kong. The Office’s director Zhang Xiaoming is widely considered to be a close ally of incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying.

She said senior Chinese officials – similar to British bureaucrats – are “smart and open-minded” as well as understand the concept that “the best argument wins.”

Regina Ip.

‘Tears at every step’

Ip lamented that in the previous chief executive election, she “started her campaign too late” and received only 40 nominations, far short of the minimum requirement of 150. “After that, I’ve been studying how to get nominated successfully,” she said.

“The past decade or so has been rough for me, because my think tank, political party and work are all self-initiated and rely on donations. I need to retain talent as well as face the public in person,” she said. “Sometimes many people support you, but other times people would call me names.”

“I have shed tears at every step I took, really,” Ip added.

John Tsang

Ip also said in a TVB talk show on Saturday that she was better qualified than Finance Secretary John Tsang, who is tipped to run for chief executive.

Ip, who graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business with a degree in management, said: “I have studied economics more than Tsang. I really spent four years at Stanford’s business school and learned about many theories. On the other hand, Tsang studied architecture – there is a difference.”

John Tsang. File Photo: Gov HK.

She further criticised all finance secretaries – including Tsang – for not being bold in public spending while lacking macro-economic plans. She said this is a reason why the government is unable to resolve persisting socio-economic issues and improve the lives of the underprivileged.

Tsang handed in his resignation as finance secretary last week. However, Beijing has not approved his departure, leading to the speculation that he may not be given the “green light” to join the race.

Ip said in response that it took her a month to get Beijing’s approval of her resignation as security chief in 2003.

The chief executive hopeful also said she is confident that she would secure the required 150 nominations to join the race. She would continue garnering support from various sectors, Ip added.

So far, only Ip and ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing have officially declared their intention to run for the chief executive election, which takes place on March 26.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.