Date
4 December 2016
Official photo from Xinhua shows a beaming CY Leung as he shakes hands with President Xi Jinping (right) on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Peru last weekend. Photo: Xinhua
Official photo from Xinhua shows a beaming CY Leung as he shakes hands with President Xi Jinping (right) on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Peru last weekend. Photo: Xinhua

Window closing fast on CY Leung

So did Leung Chun-ying get President Xi Jinping’s blessing for a second term when the two met at the APEC summit in Peru last weekend?

Judging by the official accounts, there was no such thing.

The Hong Kong government merely said on its website that the meeting focused on recent events on which Xi reiterated that there is “no room whatsoever” for Hong Kong independence under “one country, two systems”.

Also, the website quoted Leung as saying that Xi endorsed the work of the chief executive and his administration and that the latter had a “good knowledge of the Hong Kong situation”.

It said Leung also briefed the president on poverty alleviation and housing issues, as well as pushed for national support for his technology and innovation programs.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency reported that Xi had told Leung to uphold national unity and maintain social and political stability.

The remarks echoed comments Xi made in Beijing last week when he said China will never allow any part of its territory to break away.

Observers said Leung might have gotten a thumbs-up from his boss for fighting pro-independence advocates, especially Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who were disqualified from taking office by way of a judicial review and an interpretation of the Basic Law by China’s legislature. 

In the absence of a clear signal, there’s very little to go about in terms of parsing what was said between Xi and Leung.

We do have the old reliable yardsticks — imagery and body language.

In a China Central Television clip, the two men are seen smiling as they walk together after Xi’s arrival in the Peruvian capital. Leung had lined up to meet Xi at the airport.  

But at the formal reception, Xi was shown looking stern when he met Leung. It came in stark contrast to the smiling face and vigorous handshake Financial Secretary John Tsang received from Xi last year.

Some observers of the Lima event compared Xi’s facial expressions when he met US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

With Obama, they noticed that Xi had a wide grin. Xi had a dark face and refused to be photographed with Abe in 2014, reflecting the depth of tensions between their countries. 

Not only did Xinhua not mention any endorsement for Leung, or something to that effect, it also pointed out Hong Kong’s “core problem”.

That problem is rooted in the maintenance of “social order and political stability”.

Coming from an official organ, it reflects the thinking of the Communist Party leadership and, essentially of Xi Jinping.

Leung may have won a round in his battle with separatists but he has failed to uphold those edicts.

The independence movement which he helped grow by suppressing it has split Hong Kong society and now tears at its political and judicial institutions.

Pro-Beijing commentator Lau Siu-kai said Xi’s praise for Leung did not go far enough to anoint him for a second term.

And Starry Lee of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the biggest pro-Beijing political party, said Xi was not hinting at all at any support for Leung besides giving the usual platitudes.

In fact, Leung’s fate is more likely to be decided by the upcoming electoral committee subsector election next month when a small circle of voters pick 1,200 members of an election committee that will nominate and vote for the next chief executive.

Beijing is not expected to make its endorsement until after the election committee has voted to make sure it will get the desired result.

That buys Leung some time but the window is closing fast.

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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