Xi handshake carries the day for Lam

Editorial | Mary Ma Mar 14, 2017
As expected, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was elected a vice-chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

He is now ranked as one of the state leaders - having scored one more "yes" vote and eight fewer "no" votes than Tung Chee-hwa, when the latter was made a CPPCC vice-chairman, after his inglorious downfall - blamed on "leg pains" - in the middle of his second term.

There's no doubt Leung is reaching the pinnacle of his political life, and should be content with the honor as a state leader, which will give him the leverage to maintain influence in the SAR, after his former deputy - Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor - most likely succeeds him as chief executive.

At the conclusion of the CPPCC's annual national meeting in Beijing, Leung stood in the middle of the aisle, on the podium reserved for state leaders, to receive greetings from President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other politburo standing committee members.

Smiling like a Cheshire cat, CY couldn't have been more satisfied.

In the past, SAR chief executives always had a seat arranged for him at the conference table whenever he met top leaders in the capital. But this could hardly match the grand protocol Leung was accorded at the Great Hall of the People yesterday.

For Leung, it was a glorious moment. However, the scene had a deeper meaning, with some implications for the ongoing CE election.

Prior to the National People's Congress and CPPCC meetings, there had been speculation that Xi, or one of his underlings, would attend the SAR delegation's panel discussion to shed light on Xi's thoughts on the next chief executive.

The president never showed up - only Zhang Dejiang, the No 3 in the politburo standing committee, did. Refraining from backing Lam as he controversially did - openly - during a recent trip to Shenzhen, Zhang just reiterated the four criteria for Leung's successor: love the country and SAR, be trusted by Beijing, be capable of governing, and be supported by the people of Hong Kong.

Xi's no-show was disappointing to supporters of CE candidate John Tsang Chun-wah, who had expected to directly hear from him on his CE pick.

If Tung, who had advocated a second term for CY, felt free to give Lam a powerful bear hug before the TV cameras, it would violate leadership protocol for Xi to give the former chief secretary a hug on TV as well.

He apparently chose to do it subtly. On the CPPCC podium, Xi stopped to shake hands with CY and conversed with him for about 40 seconds.

What did all this mean?

It was surely congratulations to Leung on his promotion, but it may also be construed as an indirect endorsement of Lam, and that support was unanimous in the leadership.

Although the CE election will be held this month, it is effectively over after the CPPCC episode.

The next question is how much CY will be able to influence the Lam administration, from the taller vantage point of his CPPCC vice-chairmanship.

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June 2018