Beijing has approved the resignation of Finance Secretary John Tsang and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, according to a State Council announcement. The two outgoing officials are now expected to enter the race for Hong Kong’s top leadership position.

The news on Monday came in more than a month after Tsang submitted his resignation to Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying last December 12, and only four days after Lam announced her resignation, on January 12. While Tsang has not formally declared his intention to run for chief executive, Lam said last Thursday that her only reason for resigning is to run for chief executive.

Carrie Lam (L), John Tsang (R). File Photos: GovHK.

Lam’s remarks drew criticism, as public officers are prohibited from being nominated as candidates. A “candidate” is defined by the Electoral Affairs Commission to be anyone who has publicly declared an intention to run for chief executive, even if they have not submitted a nomination form. Until Lam received Beijing’s approval on Monday, she was still a public officer.

Acting Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has formally replaced Lam. Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Ceajer Chan Ka-keung was acting finance secretary following Tsang’s resignation, but Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po has replaced Chan in becoming the city’s new Finance Secretary.

Carrie Lam

Lam, 59, joined the government in 1980. Prior to her appointment as chief secretary in 2012, she served in various positions such as Director of Social Welfare; Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands; Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London; Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs; and Secretary for Development.

Lam’s critics have attacked her for failing to serve the interests of the underprivileged during her office as director of social welfare, and committing procedural impropriety in the recent controversy surrounding the Hong Kong Palace Museum project, among other things.

File Photo: GovHK.

Pro-democracy lawmakers have warned against a comeback of Leung Chun-ying’s combative style, should Lam become the city’s next leader. However, some pro-Beijing politicians and Beijing-backed papers have voiced support for Lam, citing her governance capabilities.

Political analyst Lau Siu-kai, who leads a Beijing’s top think tank on Hong Kong affairs, said that based on formal and informal sources he had collected, the Chinese government appeared to be “more focused on Lam.”

John Tsang

Tsang, 65, had been the city’s finance chief since 2007, and was responsible for drawing up Hong Kong’s budget. During his tenure, he was criticised for underestimating the budget surplus for eight years in a row. However, his estimate came close to the actual figures for the year 2015-2016.

Former lawmaker of the Civic Party Alan Leong said last Friday that he considered Tsang to be a “lesser evil” than Lam. But lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung disagreed with Leong, saying that if pro-democracy Election Committee members voted for any pro-establishment figure, including Tsang, many pro-democracy supporters would feel disillusioned and give up on their fight.

Two publicly declared candidates for the leadership position are ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing and New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip.

Ellie Ng

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