Chief executive candidate John Tsang has said that he fails to see anything new in his rival Carrie Lam’s “new fiscal philosophy.”

Tsang and fellow leadership contender Woo Kwok-hing attended a forum hosted by IT sector electors on Wednesday night. The format did not allow Tsang and Woo to debate on the same stage – instead, each took questions from the audience individually. Lam declined to attend.

Lam often used the phrase “new fiscal philosophy” during her campaign, including in her election manifesto when suggesting items such as new tax regimes.

John Tsang. screenshot.

Tsang, the former financial secretary, said in response: “I have seen many media reports, I cannot see anything new.”

Lam had said she received help from “three giants” from the financial sector, namely the former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority Joseph Yam, Financial Services Development Council chair Laura Cha, and Executive Councillor Bernard Chan.

But Tsang said, even with the help, it was difficult to understand the financial situation: “I have been working in commerce, financial areas in the government for more than 20 years – I can hardly say I can accurately get the global trend, especially the current global situation is too complex.”

Taking responsibility 

Lam is seen as Beijing’s favourite with reported support from state leader Zhang Dejiang and the China Liaison Office, Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong.

“Until now, I have not thought about losing,” he said. “To be honest, many people have poured cold water on me.”

Carrie Lam at her election rally. Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

He was asked if the people who discouraged him included central government officials: “You can see, every one was recorded [by the media].”

Tsang also said that he was not good at ditching responsibility and spinning the truth, when asked about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s “doublespeak.”

“I always stammer when I speak, so do I know how to doublespeak? To me, it is very difficult, I really don’t know how to use doublespeak. I don’t have a habit of shifting responsibility – as part of the government over the past four years, I take responsibility,” he said.

Three-way debate

Tsang also said he did not have high hopes for a debate between the three candidates on the same stage: “What’s there to talk about?… you all know what their manifestos are – I don’t see what’s special.”

The trio will finally face each other in a debate hosted by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union on Sunday, followed by the one jointly-hosted by media outlets next Tuesday.

Woo Kwok-hing. screenshot.

Lam not welcome

Meanwhile, retired judge Woo was asked if he will invite Lam and Tsang to join his administration if he is elected.

He said he welcomed Tsang, but not Lam: “She did not come today [to the forum], how can I invite her?” He said he would ask capable principal officials with high popularity ratings to join his government.

Woo said he still has 80 per cent confidence in winning, since the central government’s policy on Hong Kong has changed in that the pan-democrats were allowed their permits to China once again after a ban of two decades. Also, the unpopular Leung Chun-ying did not seek re-election as the city’s leader.

“Don’t think I will surely lose,” he said, adding that his advantage was that he was not part of the current administration.

“I don’t have political baggage, I am not the government’s man – the wrongdoings of the current government have nothing to do with me – the other two [candidates] are responsible,” he said.

John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing. screenshot.

Woo dismissed claims that he joined the race to split votes destined for Tsang.

He said, in the current system, a candidate would win if he or she received 601 votes from the 1,194-member election committee. Should no one receive 601, only two candidates will be allowed in a second round and the votes for the disqualified candidates will then be shifted to the second best choice: “No chance of splitting votes.”

Asked what would he do if Beijing demands he implement policies that will cause concern for Hongkongers, Woo said he will explain to the central government how the policies – such as those which affect freedom of speech – will harm the city’s core values and will urge Beijing not to implement them.

Kris Cheng

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.