Carrie Lam Cheung Yuet-ngor was not her usual self. On Monday the always articulate Chief Secretary made a slip of tongue by describing police use of tear gas on protesters on Sunday night as “appropriate violence”, although she immediately clarified that she meant “appropriate force”.
It was said a fly buzzing around her during the news briefing was to blame for the slip-up, but it aroused more speculation on what actually happened on Sunday.
Word has it that Lam, who cut short her holiday and returned to work on Sunday, had threatened to resign along with other cabinet ministers if violence (inappropriate violence?) was to be used outside the Tamar headquarters.
That’s probably why she made it a point to squelch rumors that she had resigned (but not threatened to resign) during the briefing. One of the few senior government officials who scored high on popularity, Lam looked tired and uninspiring.
However, one can tell from her “bee” dress code, which echoed the protesters’ yellow ribbon on a black background, that she clearly has sympathies for the students.
If she had not resigned, what could best explain the government’s U-turn on the protesters? Why did the government order the riot police to turn back and let the demonstrators celebrate their first success?
The mood on Sunday night was worse than when the city was under typhoon signal No. 8 as rumors flew around town that China’s People’s Liberation Army had crossed the border, and the Tamar site would be cleared of protesters the next morning.
What we witnessed was more tear gas was used after midnight but we also saw demonstrators determined to stay and continue the struggle. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying then made an appearance after midnight with two symbolic empty elegant Chinese chairs as backdrop.
Something must have happened that changed the mind of the Chief Executive, who allegedly said Hong Kong should use tear gas to preserve its stability.
The wishful thinking that CY Leung would be replaced was quashed last night after Beijing reiterated its support for the beleaguered Hong Kong leader and its confidence that he could handle the situation.
But it is obvious that the government resorted to backtracking, opening a dialogue with protesters (which it should have done on Sunday), shelving the second round of consultation on electoral reform and canceling the fireworks show.
This was not the first time Carrie Lam had a slip of tongue when it comes to political reform. Not too long ago she said Li Fei, who chaired Beijing’s Basic Law Committee, set the tune with one beat of the gong, clearly contradicting the government’s open stance on the issue.
Now we hope she will take more rests and remain in good spirit. If she does, she will be more careful with her words because she also knows that one more strike and she will be out.
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