21 October 2016
Aircrew unions and members of the public stage a protest at the airport despite Leung's insistence that he did not use privilege to help his daughter in the "luggagegate" scandal. Photos: RFA, HKEJ
Aircrew unions and members of the public stage a protest at the airport despite Leung's insistence that he did not use privilege to help his daughter in the "luggagegate" scandal. Photos: RFA, HKEJ

The butterfly effect of Leung’s “luggagegate”

His masters in Beijing may now be wondering why Leung Chun-ying is such a troublesome figure: once he makes a blunder, the entire SAR government takes a battering.

The “luggagegate” saga, a petty incident in the first place, has dropped yet another bombshell on the entire pro-establishment camp.

The chief executive’s words and deeds on key issues always backfire, like his misstep in handling separatism which only helped in spreading the idea further, or his hand-picked youth role model of patriotism who, it turns out, has British nationality.

Beijing can blame others for all of these snafus, but the luggagegate may serve as a wake-up call to top party cadres.

Leung has tried to explain the matter away, saying his daughter Leung Chung-yan’s use of privilege to have the luggage she left behind delivered to the boarding gate was indeed “normal, established practice” at the airport, and, there were 517 similar “courtesy deliveries” of items from the landside into the restricted area from March 2015 to March 2016 as noted in the Airport Authority’s report.

Still, the Hong Kong Aircrew General Union has pointed out these precedents were different in nature from the luggagegate in question.

And, even if the “courtesy delivery” of Chung-yan’s bag can be justified, consider this: 68.5 million passengers passed through the Hong Kong International Airport last year, but merely 0.0007 percent of them enjoyed such “courtesy deliveries”.

You really need “first family” status to enjoy such courtesy.

Leung could have ended the incident before it became a scandal, like apologizing from the outset, and he could have even scored some brownie points if he had gracefully praised the airport security staff who stopped his wife from entering the restricted area for their impartiality and professionalism.

Unfortunately, his stubbornness has led to a large protest at the airport and what’s worse, exposed a loophole in airport security.

Across the world, security has long been the top priority of airport operation and it must never be compromised for reasons like efficiency or courtesy.

Now Leung has put the security of the city’s airport at stake simply for the convenience of his daughter, and, alas, he even rebuked those who joined the protest at the airport, accusing them of “damaging Hong Kong’s image”.

The Airport Authority’s report has only compounded people’s suspicion that it’s nothing but an investigation conducted by its own people and the result lacks credibility.

For instance, the report has come up with some new interpretations: a passenger’s hand luggage is not required to be checked in the presence of the passenger, and an airline has the discretion to take a baggage that has been left behind to its owner in the restricted area.

These are all contrary to established security rules and Hongkongers’ travel experience.

The Airport Authority is wholly owned by the government with its chairman and members appointed by the chief executive. A number of Leung’s close allies now sit on the AA’s board.

My fear is that after the incident, frontline security staff, who have demonstrated their conscientiousness, may become the convenient scapegoat when the government looks to play down the incident.

Now, how will Beijing assess the luggagegate?

The backdrop is that it’s less than a year away from the next election in 2017.

Beijing may now learn more about Leung: he will destroy rules just for the convenience of his family, and when there’s a huge public backlash, he will pass the blame to his critics and the opposition.

All politicians make mistakes but there are not so many like Leung who can aggravate the public even with some trivial issues.

Will his daughter’s left-behind bag cost Leung’s political life should Beijing change its mind and pick another one for the top job in 2017?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Apr. 29.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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