Tung Chee-hwa was chief executive of Hong Kong between 1997 and 2005. (Photo/Xinhua)
Former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's interview with CNN may have been orchestrated by the Chinese government to quash rampant rumors surrounding Beijing's top leadership, reports our Chinese-language sister paper China Times
Tung, the first chief executive and president of the Executive Council of Hong Kong since the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997, surprised many when he spoke to CNN in a televised interview on Tuesday.
The 75-year-old, who typically shied away from commenting on sensitive issues regarding China during his political career, appeared relaxed during the interview as he openly discussed the ongoing dispute between China and Japan over ownership of islands in the East China Sea.
"I hope cooler heads will prevail," Tung said regarding the possibility of further escalation in the dispute, but not before blaming the Japanese government for inflaming the situation by nationalizing three of the islands last week.
Tung also shot down speculation concerning China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who recently resurfaced following a mysterious two-week absence amid rumors of heart attacks and assassination attempts.
"He hurt himself in sport and he's now recovered and he's now back at work," Tung said, adding that the health of senior leaders is not a public issue in China.
Tung said he had "no doubt whatsoever" that Xi will be named the successor to Hu Jintao at the party's 18th National Congress, which he believes will happen some time in October.
Tung said he was not privy to whether Hu will retain his position as chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission after stepping down from the presidency, but said, "Based on past practice he will retain the position for some time."
While commentators do not rule out that Tung may have simply been having a candid conversation with foreign media about Chinese politics, many believe this to be unlikely given his history of speaking conversatively about affairs on the mainland. Some speculate that Tung, who now serves as chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, may have been asked by the party to clear up rumors circulating in the media prior to the national congress next month.
Tung Chee-hwa 董建華
Xi Jinping 習近平
Hu Jintao 胡錦濤