Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang has been quoted as saying that the central government has the right to be concerned with Hong Kong’s chief executive election. Zhang, the third-highest ranking official, met with Hong Kong members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Monday morning to speak about issues facing the autonomous city.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, the head of the Hong Kong delegation, quoted him as saying that the chief executive to be chosen on March 26 is an important position.

Zhang Dejiang
Zhang Dejiang. Photo: i-cable screenshot.

“He said it is important that the chief executive is chosen in a smooth manner,” she said after the meeting. “[The next leader] must support and fit the central government’s standards, including ‘love the country and love Hong Kong,’ being capable of governance, and being supported by the Hong Kong people.”

“[He said] on one hand the chief executive is responsible to the central government, on the other hand the chief executive is responsible to Hong Kong – they are a link between the central and local [governments], it is a very important position,” she said. “The central government has the right to be concerned.”

Signals favour Lam

But Zhang did not explicitly name any preferred candidate at the annual meeting of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Candidate Carrie Lam has been seen as Beijing’s favourite, winning the support of almost half of the electors during the nomination period. Zhang visited Shenzhen in February and reportedly said Lam was the only leadership contender supported by Beijing.

Reports have claimed that former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa had said Beijing may not appoint Lam’s main rival John Tsang – the former financial secretary – even if he won. Tsang is currently leading in public opinion polls.

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: John Tsang.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a Hong Kong member of the Standing Committee of the NPC, quoted Zhang as saying that standards for the chief executive role are high.

“Some in Hong Kong said there is no reason not to trust him, he who has been a principal official,” she said, referring to Tsang. “People should understand the chief executive is a link between Hong Kong and the central government – a more important role than other principal officials – it is understandable that there should be a higher standard.”

Fan said the central government was a stakeholder in the election.

“I believe a stakeholder should have the right to express its views. It also hopes [electors] will consider its views – I think it is only telling them, no one said they must follow,” she said.

Rita Fan
Rita Fan. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

‘Gentleman’s fight’

On Saturday, Zhang met with Hong Kong delegates to Beijing’s top political advisory body. He was quoted as saying that there are four previously known requirements – including the three quoted by Tam, and that the chief executive must be trusted by Beijing.

Chan Wing-kee, a Hong Kong member of the CPPCC, quoted Zhang as saying: “The central government has the constitutional power, it is not a rubber stamp in appointing the chief executive.”

Other members including Tam Yiu-chung and Ambrose Lau Hon-chuen both cited Zhang as saying that he hoped the election will be a “gentlemen’s fight.”

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

“[Zhang hoped] it would be a match between election manifestos,” Tam said. He added Zhang did not elaborate on the circumstances whereby Beijing would refuse to appoint a winner.

Pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily reported that Zhang said electors should “vote firmly.”

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: Carrie Lam.

Vote for nominee

It has been rumoured that some who nominated Lam under alleged pressure from the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s official organ in Hong Kong-  may not vote for her in the secret ballot on March 26.

Fan said on Sunday that Zhang’s words meant electors should vote according to their nominations.

“If you nominated a candidate, it should be because you truly supported that candidate, therefore your vote after the nomination should be the same as your nomination – this is the normal situation,” Fan said.

After the weekend meeting, Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, said their group’s 18 votes will still go to Lam. Peter Lee Ka-kit, vice-chair of Henderson Land Group who nominated Lam, will also vote for her.

michael tien new peoples party
Michael Tien. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP

Henry Tang Ying-yen, former chief secretary who lost to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in the last election, also backed Lam. Meanwhile, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee of the pro-business Liberal Party, nominated Tsang but says she has yet to decide how to vote.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a party colleague of Regina Ip, said John Tsang was the more appropriate candidate at the moment, since he has the support of young people, though he added Lam has done a lot for young people “but the work seemed not to be recognised.”

“So I want to say politics is not only about capability but also the heart,” he said.

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.