Handshake with Xi 'one factor' behind Tsang's bid

Television news footage showing Mr Xi approaching Mr Tsang (back to camera) to shake his hand at the start of a meeting in June 2015.
Television news footage showing Mr Xi approaching Mr Tsang (back to camera) to shake his hand at the start of a meeting in June 2015.PHOTO: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

HONG KONG • An unexpected handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping two years ago was one reason behind Mr John Tsang's decision to run for chief executive, reported the Hong Kong media.

"It was one of the factors, but of course, that was not all," said Mr Tsang in a television interview, when asked if the handshake had prompted him to run.

Mr Xi shook Mr Tsang's hand at an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank meeting in Beijing in June 2015. At that time, the handshake was interpreted by some as a tacit go-ahead for the then financial secretary to run for Hong Kong's top post.

Mr Tsang resigned from the post in December last year.

He said he had been honoured to receive the offer of a handshake from Mr Xi, describing it as "definitely a good thing".

News footage of the event showed Mr Xi striding into the hall, then approaching and wordlessly shaking hands with Mr Tsang. Mr Xi, who was presiding over a meeting with the 57 founding member states of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, did not extend the same gesture to other members of the Chinese delegation.

Observers have drawn parallels with a 1995 handshake between then President Jiang Zemin and business leader Tung Chee Hwa. Mr Jiang had sought out the latter at a gathering and extended a high-profile handshake in front of photographers. A year later, Mr Tung became Hong Kong's first Chief Executive.

In September last year, another handshake with Mr Xi at a Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou also set tongues wagging as to whether the Chinese President had given Mr Tsang his backing.

Recent polls show Hong Kongers generally favour Mr Tsang in the four-way chief executive race, but accept that former chief secretary Carrie Lam stands a better chance of winning. Mrs Lam is widely perceived to be Beijing's preferred candidate. Analysts cite the quick approval by the central government of her resignation from the Hong Kong government. It took slightly more than a month for Mr Tsang's resignation to be approved.

Mr Tsang has launched a crowdfunding website, reaching out to members of the public who have no vote in the coming election, reported the South China Morning Post yesterday. Within minutes of its launch, the website apparently went down due to what Mr Tsang called an "underestimated response" on Facebook.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Handshake with Xi 'one factor' behind Tsang's bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe