Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung fittingly concluded his term in office with one last bulging barf-bag full of gratuitous-shoe-shine bombs.
No sooner had China’s Chairman-President Xi Jinping touched down for the Big Handover 20th Anniversary Visit than CY and his wife rushed up the steps and barged into the Air China 747 – only (so far as onlookers could tell) to be kicked out by the Beijing protocol flunky and told to stand in line on the apron with everyone else. Then (I am told) at one of the ceremonial events, CY leapt to his feet and started applauding Xi before anyone else, just to find the Chairman-President had still not finished his speech (or song, or whatever).
Trendy correct gender-neutral cultural studies and media-critic types admonished the press for avidly reporting the clothing worn by the dainty women who graced the celebrations. It is, they said, demeaning, sexist and superficial. However, CY’s wife magnificently proved them wrong, sporting a dignity-shredding travesty of fashion (half-nightgown, half-Mainland-bumpkin) that must have had deep political meaning. My guess is that this was some sort of ritual quasi-suicide to demonstrate obeisance to the Emperor’s wife – not merely dressing down a bit to enhance the visitor’s Wow Factor, but transforming yourself into Curse of Chucky in a grotesque attempt to show mega-CY-size deference.
Incoming CE Carrie Lam’s term got off to its own airport-based symbolically awkward start. Little flag-clutching schoolkids fainted on the sun-bleached, broiling tarmac waiting for the imperial entourage to get onto their plane and fly home, while she and other officials sat in air-conditioned vehicles, pondering their own fires-of-hell fate in the months and years ahead.
Which brings us to the question that must go through Carrie’s mind every morning: what on earth am I doing in this situation? The plan was to retire in the UK with the family for a quiet life of muffins and warm beer. At some stage last year, observers detected an increasingly desperate look in her eyes. In December came the unsurprising ‘shock’ news that CY would not be CE for a second term. Carrie was Beijing’s default obvious person to nobly step in – notwithstanding a visible lack of enthusiasm or apparent clue how to do the job.
‘Nobly’ is the key word. Here is a theory of what seems to be happening. Basically, she is taking the job to spare Hong Kong the wrath of its conqueror. The references to semi-obscure Asian collaborators with the Japanese during World War II might seem remote. But given how this analogy would make Beijing utterly hit the roof, we should file it away for future use. (Given her Catholic background, Carrie herself might see the role as more of a dying-for-their-sins thing.)
This does not mean that Carrie will inevitably be passive, let alone a puppet. It could be, as Philip Bowring muses, that she will stand up for Hong Kong – or that Beijing will wise up and order her to fix root causes of local discontent. But it doesn’t exactly guarantee it.