Former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has officially announced that he is entering Hong Kong’s leadership race.

His running slogan will be “Trust, Hope, Unity,” which was printed on a backdrop at his campaign press conference on Thursday. “I’ve waited for this day for a long time,” he said.

john tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

He gave a 20-minute speech which began by recalling 1982, when people were considering moving away from the city out of fears for its future with China.

He said that 30 years later, migration has become the topic once again for many people, from the young to middle-aged people: “I felt sad hearing this – it made me wonder what the reason was that they think like that and what I could do,” he said, before confirming his run.

“I don’t want to hear more people saying they want to move. I have experienced such difficulties as an immigrant. I moved to New York with my parents when I was 14… the life of Chinese and ethnic minority immigrants was not easy.”

Tsang spoke of unity, and recalled his experience in joining protests to defend China’s sovereignty of the disputed Diaoyu Islands. He said he then started to consider whether to return to his hometown.

john tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“The experience in the US made me understand social problems cannot be solved in one day. An ideal world cannot be achieved with work from a minority – to reach this dream, we need a lot of people in different roles, with different ideals, and the whole government, to handle social problems step-by-step together with the most tolerance,” he said. “This is the background for me to join the establishment.”

He said Hong Kong people have gone through several generations alongside the development of China: “Now the extreme minority who dreamt of Hong Kong independence – I want to know: how can they reject our history and insult Hongkongers’ emotions? They don’t know what Hong Kong is. China is the core of identity of Hong Kong people.”

‘Reignite hope’

Tsang said he believed Hong Kong was for all “true” Hongkongers.

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“I believe we urgently need to build trust, to unite, to reignite hope – because if society has no trust, it is not united, and the youth have no hope in the future – no matter how hard we work, we can’t see a better Hong Kong,” he said. “These are our core values – rule of law, fairness, free of corruption, freedom, democracy, diversity, tolerant and care. I believe it is the most important task of the government to defend these core values.”

The government needs to review its economic policy to face the new global situation, Tsang said. He added that he agreed with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s grand direction in housing, with an eye on taking care of the natural environment.

”Click to view: English speech in full“

My Dear Friends,

It was during a time of great uncertainty some thirty four years ago, when China and Britain started negotiations on Hong Kong’s future, that I returned with my young family to Hong Kong from the United States, and joined the civil service in this great city of ours.

I have been fortunate to have held in my 34 years of public service a good number of positions in a wide range of policy areas that impact on the people of Hong Kong. So much so that I dare to say: I know Hong Kong.

I have big dreams for this city of ours, and together, I know we can overcome the many challenges that stand in our way.

Hong Kong is a great city operating under the concept of ‘One Country Two Systems’. This is a unique framework that best suits our development. I have witnessed the tremendous clout that our nation now wields on the world stage, and I have no doubt that Hong Kong will become the leading international financial centre on the back of the economic strength of China, and visionary initiatives, such as ‘One Belt One Road’ and FTAAP, that are at the beginning stages of implementation.

But we do need to check the disruptive elements that are threatening to curb our growth – the anger, the polarization, the occasional irrational talks of independence and the confrontation that has torn our society apart. Hong Kong never speaks with only one tongue, and has not followed only one dictum; Hong Kong does not just serve the business sector or the labour sector; Hong Kong does not just serve those born in the 50’s or those in the 80’s. Hong Kong is all of that.

The situation in Hong Kong today cannot be resolved by mere force and aggression; it requires restraint and moderation, on the part of everyone. We must pay tribute to diversity, inclusiveness and rationality in our society, the core values that provide a common ground for all the people of Hong Kong, and which the Government is duty-bound to preserve.

We became a great city because of our core values which include the rule of law, fairness, integrity, freedom, democracy, diversity, inclusiveness and caring for others. As the custodian of these values and strengths, the Government must refrain from undue interference, and provide at the appropriate juncture the necessary conditions for our economy to become even more balanced and more diverse.

We became a great city because we have the flexibility to adjust. We believe that market economy is an effective tool to create wealth and allocate resources, but markets can fail. Speaking from experience, we can make good use of the market to serve society.

We cannot be blinded to the economic problems and wealth disparity that we face today. Instead of acting against market forces, our mission is to remedy its pitfalls and improve its implementation, helping those who have fallen through the safety net, and ensuring a decent livelihood for those who are willing to contribute to the success of Hong Kong.

A great Hong Kong also means that its people lead a healthy and respectable life. The present government’s diagnosis of the housing problem is largely correct, and I wish to state clearly my intention to keep producing more land and more housing to tackle the problems of housing shortage, ageing buildings and high property prices. These issues place a huge burden on our people. They are also stunting the growth of business in Hong Kong.

As we develop, we need also to keep in mind the necessity to preserve the priceless natural environment of Hong Kong, and the heritage buildings that embody our collective memories. I shall consider all possible means, including large scale reclamation and urban renewal, to produce more land and to enable Hong Kong citizens to enjoy better living conditions.

A great Hong Kong also means that the people here should be able to lead happy lives, and see Hong Kong as their home for generations to come. We are one of the longest living people in the world, but mere longevity is not good enough. We are told by various surveys that the people of Hong Kong are not happy, and that may explain some people’s wish to emigrate. It is my sincere wish to change these attitudes, and ensure that all the people of Hong Kong can lead fulfilled and happy lives.

A great Hong Kong would be a place brimming with vigour and vibrancy. It would be a place where young people are able to see a future for themselves, a place where they wish to raise a family and a place where their hard work would be duly rewarded.

I look forward to hearing their ambitions, whatever they are – starting a world-class business; pursuing further studies; or even dabbling in farming. And I wish to help them map out a blueprint for their future. I may not live long enough to see it all, but I can help lay the foundation for it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not an eloquent speaker like many of you out there. But I do have a gift of listening and pondering deeply what other people say to me. People who have known me all these years find me easy to work with, and I find myself always surrounded by people with diverse talents and experiences.

Today I am standing before you, the 7.35 million people of Hong Kong, not as a single person , but as a team of committed Hong Kong citizens with a common vision: to work together to make our city an even greater place to live.

Looking back on my life, my greatest realization is that confrontation, pessimism and prejudice are not inevitable. What we need is to rebuild trust, reestablish unity and rekindle hope. These are the three keys which are set out on the backdrop behind me. With the right measure of good will, faith and hard work, we can find the solutions, and we can write the history that we want to see.

What I fear most is that the confrontation and conflicts that we have seen in our society recently have eroded permanently our courage and confidence to seek solutions. But, looking back on history, darkness always gives way to light – if only we could hold on to good will and hope.

Is it a difficult target to aim for? Of course it is. You may choose not to trust me to do it alone, but you must trust the collective faith and good will of all of us. Where others see a depressing situation, I see courage in changing the course of history; where others see a society torn apart, I see dawn at the end of a long dark night. If I can see a future for Hong Kong, so can we all.

I have done a great deal of soul-searching of late, and I can genuinely tell you that I am more determined now than ever to serve this city of ours. In fact more determined than what had urged me to return to Hong Kong in 1982.

Ladies and gentlemen, I declare I am running for Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

“If we do not have our countryside and the nature that we are proud of, our lives are not full; If we do not have our communities that support us and old buildings that hold our memories, our lives will be unbalanced,” he said.

Political reform

Asked about restarting political reform, Tsang said it needed to be seen whether the political situation has truly changed since 2014. “If it hasn’t changed, if it remains the same, we are just banging our heads against the wall – that would not serve any purpose,” he said. “What we must do is to really have a proper dialogue with all the different stakeholders to see if this is the time.”

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Asked if Beijing had tried to dissuade him from running, Tsang said many people had encouraged him to run: “I want to thank friends online and people on the streets who support me,” he said. “There are some newspapers who have given endorsement to Carrie [Lam], but I guess all newspapers in Hong Kong have a position too – and I hope they would express their opinion, hopefully some of you may even endorse me.”

Asked about his health, as he had a heart operation in the past, he said: “It may be best for me to get into a fight, then I’ll know if my heart is well.”

Month-long delay

Tsang tendered his resignation on December 12 last year, but it was only approved by Beijing on Monday. Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po has replaced Tsang to become the financial secretary.

During the press conference, he would not speculate as to why his resignation took longer to be approved than rival Carrie Lam.

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Carrie Lam, Regina Ip, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing. Photo: HKFP remix.

He said he believed the policies for the next government would be to “recuperate” from the conflicts over the past few years: “But it does not mean not doing anything, sleeping till late, no – we need to do more work on economy, livelihood – we need to do things that people think are right to regain their trust.”

Budget already prepared 

Tsang became the city’s finance chief in 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.

Asked if he felt he was irresponsible for leaving the government before February’s budget was published, Tsang said that most of the work has already been done: “Between December 12 and the end of February, there are ten weeks – there is enough time for [the next Financial Secretary] to write some emotional words for the budget,” he said.

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

As a younger man, Tsang spent 17 years in the US where he studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned a master’s degree in Bilingual Education from Boston State College, and a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

He then returned to Hong Kong and joined the civil service, holding the position of Secretary of Commerce, Industry and Technology from 2003 to 2006, and was director of the Chief Executive’s Office from 2006 to 2007.

The three other publicly declared candidates for the leadership position are ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing, former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip. The small-circle election will take place on March 26.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.