Hong Kong finance chief quits; leadership bid expected

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s financial chief resigned Monday, in what is widely seen as a prelude to a leadership bid for the southern Chinese city’s top job.

Financial Secretary John Tsang tendered his resignation, the government said, in a move that came after the city’s deeply unpopular current leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, announced unexpectedly on Friday that he would not seek a second term in office.

Rumors and speculation have been swirling for months that Tsang would step down and put himself forward as a candidate to replace Leung, whose five-year term ends in June.

Tsang, 65, has been dubbed “Mr. Pringles” because his mustache reminds many Hong Kongers of the potato chip brand’s mascot. Educated in the U.S., Tsang has been the city’s finance chief since 2007.

Tsang is Hong Kong’s second-most popular public official, with an approval rating of 62 percent, according to a survey last month by Hong Kong University pollsters. Leung, meanwhile, was last, with a 71 percent disapproval rating. About 1,000 people were polled for the survey, which had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Leung, who cited family reasons for not continuing in the job, is widely reviled for his hard-line stance against pro-democracy activists and lawmakers and because he’s suspected of having deep ties to China’s communist leaders. Tsang, meanwhile, has a more easygoing public persona.

Hong Kong leaders are chosen by a 1,200-member panel of mostly pro-Beijing tycoons and elites, which is scheduled to make its pick in March. So far, one person, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, has publicly declared his intention to run for the job of leading the city of 7.2 million.