It takes gumption for a Hong Kong government official, let alone its Beijing-anointed leader, to diverge from the central government’s official line.
But that’s exactly what Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did on Tuesday.
Leung challenged an editorial in Global Times, a state organ run by the Communist Party, which mocked Hong Kong’s unofficial referendum on electoral reform.
He disagreed with the paper comparing the populations of mainland China and Hong Kong in belittling the referendum, and said Hong Kong people have no criminal liability for taking part in an exercise declared illegal by Beijing.
Was Leung speaking out of turn? The answer depends on where you are.
If you’re in the mainland, you might have heard the first rumblings of senior cadres demanding Leung be called to account.
In Hong Kong, you might have heard people dismiss his comments as a naked attempt by an unpopular leader to curry favor with an increasingly alienated populace.
We’re at a loss ourselves what to make of the Global Times’ assertion that the 700,000 who turned out for the vote are no match to China’s 1.3 billion-strong population.
Did it mean that in a small place like Hong Kong, people’s views don’t count? Or that China has more say in matters involving other parties by virtue of its massive population?
Still, when you have 10 percent of the population booming a single message in a single voice, you have an undeniable undercurrent of popular sentiment that will stand in any setting, no matter what you compare it to.
Leung knows that and perhaps grudgingly accepts it, even though his government assiduously hews to the official line.
That’s what makes the next several days a cliffhanger, because for all the calculations that must have gone into Leung’s statement, the outcome could go either way.
No one knows if Leung’s comments somehow appeased his restive constituents into going easy on the July 1 protest and on a planned blockade of Central by a civil disobedience group.
Nor is Leung himself sure Beijing won’t come down hard on him one way or another.
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