Tang's calculated hardened stance

Dear paramount boss:
A would-be leader of the city hall,
I vow to make the city's pro-boss law.
But I have received the wakeup call,
from citizens who are raw,
telling me that I must back off or fall.
Now I am at a loss.
Please choose me to carry the ball.

Mary Ma,  The Standard

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen made a real noise at the think-tank Roundtable Institute and Its Network.

At the youth-focused organization's general meeting on Saturday, he commented on the phenomenon of the "post-80s" generation from a post-50s point of view.

Starting off with an appeal not to ignore his speech because of the generation gap, Tang, 58, sought to justify the social movements spreading seeds of change. But the main thrust of his speech was delivered in the second half and mainly consisted of five points.

First, he called on 20-somethings to heed responsibilities while emphasizing rights. Then he cautioned against dictating thoughts by slamming others because of their opposing views.

Thirdly, Tang stressed the need for compromise, and said people of extremely strong principles are often unable to do this. Fourthly, people should avoid simplifying complicated issues.

And lastly, he cited shooting incidents in the United States to emphasize the dangers of resorting to violence that could lead Hong Kong down the road of no return.

Frankly, it was shocking to hear Tang make a speech like this one. It wasn't a declaration of war on the post- 80s generation, but still provocative, as every word was aimed at the youth.

It was out of character for Tang, because even when post-80s youths besieged the legislature during last year's Express Rail Link funding row, we didn't hear such strong words from him.

So how should we interpret the speech?

Among critics, Tang was immediately blasted for becoming a de facto Beijing official. However, I think the critics failed to see the whole picture. His statement should be taken in the context of the 2012 chief executive election.

Maybe his views reflect the central government's concerns over recent development in Hong Kong. But it also certainly summarized worries shared by many in the pro-establishment camp.

The speech offers a clear sign Tang is cranking up his bid for the top post. Perhaps, what's ironic is it was made more for the ears of members of the Election Committee that will choose the chief executive, rather than the post-80s youths who have no say in the matter.

Shortly after the speech, Executive Council convener Leung Chun-ying expressed agreement with what Tang said.

It's public knowledge that Leung also has a keen interest in vying for the CE's post. In the past, he would choose either not to publicly comment on Tang's remarks, or wait for a chance later to refute them.

Why was it extraordinary for Leung this time around? It underlines the message that no matter who is contesting the CE's post, it's the position that any candidate must take.

Tang's statement about the post-80s generation is certainly provocative to a large extent. But it marks his run for chief executive's office with a loud shot.

While it may be inconsistent of him to sound like a hardliner, it's probable he will soften his position later after getting elected.