Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp has faced rare criticism from the city’s ex-leader Leung Chun-ying, who has urged them to curb “extravagant and wasteful practices” following a large-scale banquet for a departing local official.

Pro-establishment associations held a farewell dinner for Wong Tai Sin District Officer Steve Wong last Thursday night, before he set off to Beijing for a year-long study placement at Peking University.

Steve Wong banquet
Steve Wong (second from the right) gives the thumbs up during a farewell banquet last Thursday. Photo: Internet.

The banquet, held at a Chinese restaurant in Kowloon Bay, involved 43 tables and around 500 attendees. Pictures posted on Facebook showed a group photo featuring hundreds of people giving the “thumbs up” gesture, as they clutched a cartoon portrait of the outgoing official.

During the dinner, the host pronounced twice that “to serve as secretary for bureaus and as chief secretary, the next step is chief executive,” Ming Pao reported, citing two independent sources.

“In recent years, this trend of extravagant and wasteful practices among establishment organisations has become increasingly severe and must be curbed. The number of these organisations is growing, and there seems to be endless wining and dining,” Leung said on Facebook on Friday, adding that the banquet for Wong was only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Steve Wong farewell dinner
Pro-Beijing associations hold a farewell dinner for District Officer Steve Wong on last Thursday. Photo: Internet.

The ex-chief executive posted again on Sunday, urging public servants not to “become the centre of attention at banquets attended by hundreds of people”.

“Moreover, Hong Kong taxpayers have not been stingy in terms of salary for public servants, ” Leung said.

Leung was appointed vice-chair of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2017 after he stepped down as the city’s leader. He posts frequently on Facebook attacking democrats, dissidents and other pro-democracy and opposition figures.

Following Leung’s remarks, pro-Beijing political figures – including Executive Council convenor Regina Ip and member Ronny Tong – also raised concerns. Ip slammed the trend of “excessive flattery and personal adulation.”

leung chun-ying cy
Leung Chun-ying. File photo: GovUK.

The city’s leader John Lee mentioned the incident as he met the press on Sunday. Lee said that he believed government officials linked to the banquet have “learned a lesson.”

“We shall learn from this lesson and adopt simpler and more direct methods to encourage and express gratitude towards officials in the future,” the chief executive said.

Ho Hon Man, the organiser of the banquet, told local media outlet HK01 that “a few friends contributed money together” to pay for the banquet, which cost below HK$200,000. Ho is the chairman of the Wong Tai Sai district commission of the Kowloon Federation of Associations, a large-scale alliance of pro-Beijing district groups founded in 1997.

He said holding banquets to bid farewell to district officers had been a common practice since 2020, adding that a dinner with 100 tables was held to send off district officer William Shiu in 2013.

‘Little chief executive’

In response to criticism, Wong – the district officer – apologised via the Facebook page of the Home Affairs Department last Friday evening: “I apologise for the attention drawn to the farewell banquet this time, especially issues surrounding perceptions of the banquet,” Wong said.

Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak, who oversees district officers, told local media that she thought the banquet was not intended to flatter Wong, but such large-scale events were not necessary. She added that a simple letter expressing gratitude would be good enough.

farewell dinner Steve Wong
More than 500 people attended a farewell banquet for District Officer Steve Wong (the fifth from right) last Thursday. Photo: Hong Kong Fat Keung Sport Association.

District officers are seen as the top representative of the government at district levels. Following the overhaul of the district council electoral system – which reduced democratic representation – district officers have been granted more power. From 2024, they will chair district councils meetings.

Regina Ip, the chair of the pro-Beijing New People Party, told Ming Pao that district officers are like “little chief executives” under the new political system. “When one has gained more power, they shall not give others the impression that they want to be flattered,” Ip said.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.