Hong Kong’s new 'chameleon-like' chief executive draws ire

August 12, 2012

On the night of July 1, hundreds of yellow paper airplanes representing the anger of many in Hong Kong flew over the wall of a compound containing a Chinese government office.

The protesters who tossed the paper airplanes stood outside the compound chanting, "We're sending CY back (to the Chinese government)."

Leung Chun-ying assumed office that same day as the newly appointed chief executive of Hong Kong. The appointment of the pro-China Leung has touched off large demonstrations by pro-democracy citizens who are calling for a more autonomous Hong Kong. According to organizers, the July 1 demonstration attracted 400,000 people, the largest number in years, and even before he took office, the 57-year-old Leung's disapproval rate was at 50 percent.

In Hong Kong, the chief executive is not determined by a mandate of the people. Rather, the chief executive is elected through votes cast by a 1,200-member election committee consisting of different professional organizations. The interests of the Chinese government directly influence the outcome of the election.

But China has approved of a transition to take place in five years where the current election committee system will be scrapped for one in which the chief executive will be determined by a popular election and rank-and-file citizens will be able to cast votes.

"I'm willing to accept a one-person, one-vote election," Leung said, already expressing his desire for re-election.

Despite the criticism, Leung has taken into consideration public opinion since his appointment.

"I will defend the system in which the Hong Kongers govern Hong Kong," he said at his inauguration ceremony. "We will not have a high degree of autonomy in name only."

Leung also said he plans to visit all districts in Hong Kong to listen to citizens' opinions.

Leung's ties to China's Communist Party go back to his early life.

His father was a policeman from Weihai, Shandong province. His mother, who couldn't read or write, raised him and his two sisters while making artificial flowers at home.

The Chinese media has reported that Leung was raised hearing that, "Your father was born in the year of the Xinhai Revolution, and your older sister was born in the year this China was created."

Although he was born in Hong Kong, his family taught him never to forget his roots in the mainland.

Leung received a scholarship to a distinguished middle school. At the predecessor of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he studied surveying techniques, and from 1974, he studied in Britain for four years. His studies abroad further strengthened his sense of identity as a Chinese person.

One day, Leung visited the Chinese Embassy in London to ask whether there were any opportunities to work for China. He was treated well by the embassy staff, and Leung has told the Chinese media that "it boosted his spirits while living abroad."

After returning home, he joined a foreign real estate company in Hong Kong. During this time, he spoke often of "wanting to improve China," according to Michael N.M. Choi, a 54-year-old real estate company president who was a colleague of Leung at the time.

In the early 1980s, Leung instructed government officials about land transactions during the early phase of Chinese economic reform in areas such as Shanghai. Like other business executives in Hong Kong, Leung used his relationship with government officials in conducting business. He made a fortune in real estate and became a business magnate.

In 1985, Leung was tapped to become the secretary-general of the Basic Law Consultative Committee, which was assembled to draw up fundamental Hong Kong law.

At the time, the 31-year-old was the youngest member of that committee.

Because of his past close ties to the Chinese government, many Hong Kong pro-democracy critics nowadays consider Leung a "closet communist."

Still, others who support Leung are hopeful of his new role as chief executive and of Hong Kong's future.

"During the election campaign, he took part in more than 100 round-table discussions," said Fanny Law, a 59-year-old former senior government official in Hong Kong who supported Leung. "No other chief executive has listened to this many people from the low-income class."

Regarding democracy in Hong Kong, Leung has said, "I will not interfere with China’s internal affairs."

After the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, he took out an ad in Hong Kong newspapers that read, "Condemn the rulers of the Communist Party."

Still, critics continue to call Leung "The Chameleon," saying he is an opportunist who changes his colors to blend into his surroundings.

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Leung Chun-ying and his wife after he was elected chief executive of Hong Kong in March (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Leung Chun-ying and his wife after he was elected chief executive of Hong Kong in March (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Leung Chun-ying and his wife after he was elected chief executive of Hong Kong in March (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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