Why even Leung's aides don't buy into his speeches

September 18, 2015 16:07
Anson Lai, assistant media director in the Chief Executive’s Office, shows a quizzical expression when Leung says his status "transcends" that of others in Hong Kong's government. Photos: RTHK

Leung Chun-ying wants you to believe he has super powers not possessed by ordinary members of his administration. 

It is, however, one of his press secretaries who has been hailed online as a hero -- for his unvarnished reaction to the chief executive's speech trumpeting his own special status.

No spin emerged from the lips of someone who would normally be regarded as a spin doctor.

In fact, Anson Lai Yat-ching, assistant media director in the Chief Executive’s Office, did not have to say a word.

Leung was at pains Wednesday to puff up his position, building on remarks by Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing's man in Hong Kong, at the weekend.

As Leung intoned on a live telecast with his aide standing in the background, "The central government appoints only the chief executive and the principal officials nominated by the chief executive. Therefore, the status of chief executive is indeed transcendent," Lai's eyebrows went vertical.

His visible disbelief stole the limelight from his boss, and the spontaneous gesture went viral on the web like an emoticon.

While netizens praised Lai for the honesty of his reaction, some worried about the career of the long-serving administrative officer. 

Others wondered where Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, the chief executive's information coordinator and Hong Kong's equivalent of the White House spokesman, was on the occasion of such a significant pronouncement.

It is not the first time Leung's remarks have been greeted with skepticism from his subordinates.

One memorable moment was on Aug. 31 last year, when he expressed his gratitude for Beijing's rubber-stamping of the constitutional reform proposal after months of public consultation.

While Leung grinned, most of his staff, aware that the package had barely been enhanced from its original version, displayed a poker face.

Eventually, the Legislative Council voted down the proposal in June.

Although Chinese politicians, like their compatriots in general, are often shallowly described by western observers as inscrutable, to those in the know they are not particularly good at concealing their feelings in public.

Why, for instance, did Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah receive a warmer smile from President Xi Jinping when they shook hands in Beijing recently than the one Xi bestowed on Leung on a similar occasion?

Speaking of body language, perhaps the powers that be will be able to transcend any initial feelings of dismay they might have in the face of the spontaneous reaction of poor Anson Lai, no politician but an honest citizen.

(Cantonese only)

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Xi Jinping (right) did not display much enthusiasm when he met Leung Chun-ying in Beijing in November last year. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong officials also managed to restrain their enthusiasm as Leung Chun-ying welcomed the National People's Congress Standing Committee's electoral reform package on Aug. 31 last year. Photo: Xinhua

EJ Insight writer