Seating arrangement in any political gathering and formal group photograph is always tricky, especially so in China where authorities constantly use official events to send signals to the outside world.
Given this, a group picture taken Monday after President Xi Jinping met with a group of Hong Kong business leaders, in a delegation led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, has come in for particular scrutiny, with observers reading a hidden message, Ming Pao Daily reported Tuesday.
Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University and a political commentator, said the seating arrangement in the photo suggests that Beijing is now more eager to cozy up to the tycoons than it was in 2003, when Beijing hosted a similar gathering after half a million Hong Kong people took to the streets to protest Clause 23 of the Basic Law.
Choy said more tycoons were seated in the first row of the picture this time than in a similar picture taken in 2003. This points to Beijing’s eagerness to have the top tycoons on its side, he said.
Xi said in the meeting that Beijing will continue to support Hong Kong’s development. He noted that the “one country, two systems” has been contributing to the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.
Li Ka-shing, chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd. (00001.HK) and Asia’s richest man, was seated next to Xi, suggesting that Li is still given tremendous weight by Beijing, Choy said.
Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, chairman of Sing Tao News Corp. and Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching were both promoted to the first row of the group picture this time, from the second row in 2003. Sino Group chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong also advanced to the first row from the third.
According to Choy, Beijing’s arrangement of the meeting was aimed at stabilizing Hong Kong society as many people in the city have been angry with the framework for the 2017 chief executive election, and as some tycoons were also not satisfied with the performance of Hong Kong’s incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying.
Democratic Party leader Emily Lau was quoted as saying that the meeting achieved nothing except hurt Hongkongers’ feelings, as it showed that Beijing only values the opinions of rich people. She also questioned why Xi did not make any mention of “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong with high degree of autonomy” in the meeting.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong said it is clear that Xi is determined to stick to Beijing’s proposed political reform path for Hong Kong.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Xi must be hoping that Hong Kong people would think with a long-term perspective and conclude that Beijing and Hong Kong share the same interests.
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