Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Xi Shows who's in Control

Xi Jinping (right) sits at the head of the table, CY Leung to his right
China watchers had a field day today after Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made his latest pilgrimage to Beijing to ask for advice on how the city could play a role in China's "One Belt One Road" initiative and the 13th five-year plan.

In photographs released afterwards, it was shown that in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping was seated at the head of a long boardroom table, and Leung sat at one side next to Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

This same arrangement was also evident in Leung's meeting with Premier Li Keqiang.

What did this new seating arrangement mean?

This was a contrast to previous meetings with Xi and Li, where Leung said in two chairs side by side, giving the impression Hong Kong was on equal footing to China.

Previously Leung and Xi sat side by side in meetings
But now it looks like someone wants to send a message to Hong Kong -- you've been demoted.

Leung later said the new seating arrangement "reflects the constitutional position of Hong Kong and the central authorities", but lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions put it more bluntly.

"It has highlighted... the subordinate role [of Hong Kong]," he said. "Beijing did not stress its role in the early years after the handover to avoid scaring off Hong Kong people, but the central government has changed its policy in the wake of the Occupy protests and the failed political reform."

Meanwhile Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing remarked the new protocol was unnecessary and degrading, only confirming existing fears about the future of "one country, two systems".

"People would only have a stronger impression that Leung has failed to uphold the city's high degree of autonomy," she said.

All these explanations are plausible, but what about what Xi said during his meeting with Hong Kong's leader?

Xi noted "new circumstances" had arisen regarding one country, two systems, both in Hong Kong and in the international community. He promised the central government would be steadfast and unshaken in its commitment to the policy and "make sure its implementation does not get distorted".

If Xi doesn't want things to "get distorted", perhaps he himself could explain the new seating arrangement so that we're all on the same page?

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