An unprecedented seat change for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has highlighted the “subordinate” role of Hong Kong during his latest duty visit to Beijing, critics have said.

In the past, Hong Kong’s leaders have sat side-by-side with the Chinese president on identical chairs, mirroring the arrangements for visiting foreign leaders.

However, Leung was this time seated to one side of a long conference table, next to Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) director Wang Guangya. Xi was then seated at the head of the table, with the same arrangement also applying to Leung’s meeting with Premier Li Keqiang.

Leung meeting with Xi this year at a side seat.
Leung meeting with Xi this year. Photo: Gov HK.

At a part of the meeting open to media, Xi said that there were now “new circumstances” in the implementation of “One country, Two Systems” and that the issue had been debated in both Hong Kong and amongst the international community.

Xi stressed the central government would not waver on the implementation of this principle, and would ensure that it is not “distorted” and continues “along the right path.” He also asked Leung to “fight for development, stability and harmony” in the territory.

After the meeting, Leung said the arrangements for the meeting differed from earlier duty visits. He quoted the HKMAO as saying that the seating change “reflected the relationship between the central government and the special administrative region.”

Leung meeting Xi in 2014 on the same kind of seats.
Leung meeting Xi in 2014 on the same kind of seats. Photo: Gov HK.

Veteran commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu told Apple Daily that the arrangement was intended to highlight the subordinate relationship between the central government and local sub-divisions, which must pay their respects to the capital.

Pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Union lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin suggested that the new arrangement may be related to the white paper on “one country, two systems” issued in June 2014, to make it clear that the central government is in the principal position.

Democratic Party chairperson Emily Lau Wai-hing said that the “new circumstances” were created by Beijing itself, using the white paper to more fully control Hong Kong.

She added that the new arrangement “degraded” Hong Kong, much like the seating arrangement when Leung met with Philippines president Benigno Aquino III two years earlier, during which time Leung was also seated to the side.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.