Hong Kong's former finance chief John Tsang takes aim at politicians for 'ruining city's rules and systems'

Hong Kong’s former financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah on Saturday took a dig at politicians of all stripes – including the pro-democracy camp which supported him in last year’s chief executive race – accusing them of causing “deep and irreparable injury” to the city’s systems.

He was particularly critical about the goings-on in the Legislative Council, saying that for some politicians, Hong Kong’s rules and systems had turned into “political tools for attacking rivals”.

Tsang, who lost to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the leadership election, did not give specific examples but alluded to legislators such as the pro-establishment camp’s Junius Ho Kwan-yiu who recorded a Facebook Live video when opposition lawmakers were criticising government bills.

“There was no Facebook Live or the making of funny faces [in the past], like you were in preschool. I’m lucky that I don’t have to work with the legislature any more,” he said.

“Our legislature, where the gentlemen’s game had taken place for many years, has turned into a place without rules … and where rationality has no place to live.”

Tsang added: “Someone might say that this has nothing to do with me, and blame his or her rival.”

He clarified: “Someone might also misunderstand that I’m pinpointing some legislators or parties, but I’m talking about systems … Even for people who share similar political views to me, I would still criticise and negate without hesitation if they were hurting the system, this should be a bottom line and basic moral [principle] for a politician.”

Our legislature has turned into a place without rules, where rationality has no place to live

John Tsang, former financial secretary

Tsang, who has become an adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong and a radio and television host on music and culture programmes since leaving the government, was speaking at a forum organised by the pro-democracy Project Citizens Foundation, founded by former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang.

About 300 people, including many who had styled themselves as the city’s political opposition and critics of the government, attended the event.

The title of his speech was “Conservation of the cultural features of Hong Kong”.

The other speakers included Canto-pop star and pro-democracy activist Denise Ho Wan-sze, cultural critic Leung Man-tao and Yale University anthropologist Helen Siu Fung-har.

Tsang started his speech by poking fun at his ex-boss, the city’s unpopular former leader Leung Chun-ying, who attended a function in April to promote traditional Chinese costumes.

“A lot of Hong Kong people are nostalgic about the past, but not everyone is like CY, who was so nostalgic that he had to promote Chinese costumes, and wore ancient costumes to pretend to be an ancient person.”

Tsang went on to explain the importance of preserving Hong Kong’s political, economic and pop cultures.

11 lawmakers forbidden to speak at checkpoint debate as time expires

On Cantonese, he urged its preservation and asked Hongkongers to join him, rather than counting on others to do it. But he added that people should not view mainland China as a threat to what made the city special.

“I don’t want to see Hong Kong and the mainland being put on opposing sides … Hong Kong is a part of China,” Tsang said.

He vowed to continue speaking up to preserve the city’s tradition of rewarding merit, being rational and having fair competition.

“There are different confrontations in this city, between yellow and blue, between the pro-establishment and opposition camps, but I’m only concerned about one kind of confrontation: between those who are civilised, and those who do uncivilised acts. I would not back down on this issue,” Tsang said.

He recently joined merchant bank Ion Pacific as a vice-chairman.

Tsang said he accepted the appointment because the bank would cooperate with tech companies in Israel to bring new financial technologies to Hong Kong.

Asked to comment on Tsang’s criticism, lawmaker and leader of the opposition Civic Party Alvin Yeung said: “Even if the public finds the democrats being relatively more radical than in the past, it takes two to tango.”

He added: “If we weren’t facing such an oppressive regime, or a pro-establishment camp and a Legislative Council president who turn a blind eye to conventions and rules, there would not be a reason or grounds for us to become radical.”

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