Chief executive candidate John Tsang has said he was not part of the decision to deploy tear gas during the start of the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014. At the time, he called the police action an appropriate arrangement.

The police shot 87 tear gas canisters on September 28 that year in an attempt to clear protesters who occupied major roads in Admiralty and Central, but the effort failed and sparked further street occupations which lasted for 79 days. The demonstrators were protesting against Beijing’s reform framework handed down a month earlier, which stated that leadership candidates must be vetted through a nomination committee it largely controls.

Tsang said the protests could have been prevented entirely.

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Facebook/John Tsang.

“When I was studying in the US, there were the anti-war, civil liberties protests – they were the dove faction, or some say the acts of hippies – these have been my beliefs,” he told Citizen News in an interview on Tuesday.

“Many things happened in the US in the 1970s, there were similarities [between Hong Kong and the US], so I was quite emotional during the Occupy protests, especially because it has lasted for so long,” he said.

Hong Kong Umbrella Movement
Hong Kong Umbrella Movement tear gas. Photo: Wikimedia.

He said he did not know about the decision-making process when it came to deploying tear gas, “but there was not a collective discussion.”

Asked about if his main rival Carrie Lam was involved, he said: “I don’t know, but I was not.” He also said he had no idea if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was involved.

“We are partly responsible for the distrust and discontent in the government,” he said.

On October 3, 2014, when Tsang was briefing media over the economic situation, he said that the work of the police was difficult and unrewarding, and that he trusted that the police made appropriate arrangements according to the situation, when asked about the tear gas deployment.

Leung Chun-ying John Tsang
Leung Chun-ying and John Tsang.

Tension with Leung

Tsang also told the news site that he had reason to believe that he was not Leung Chun-ying’s first choice as financial secretary, but he was encouraged by some officials from the central government to remain in order to bring stability during a turbulent global economic environment.

He said he kept a professional relationship with Leung, despite differences in financial ideals. He said that he did not support more active government participation in the market. He resigned at the end of last year as “the overall relationship with the chief executive had come to a point that [resignation] was the best way to handle it.”

He refused to state the reason but said the consultation and analysis for the annual budget that was set to be released in February had been completed before he left. He also said he had yet to make up his mind about running for the top job when he resigned.

Alleged US link

Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper claimed on Wednesday that the “Small Potatoes,” a group of Tsang’s young supporters, were connected to the US.

It claimed two main members of the group came from the consultancy APCO Worldwide, which is related to former US president Bill Clinton and investor George Soros.

Woo Kwok-hing is the other candidate in Sunday’s small-circle election.

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.