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Carrie Lam’s perfect storm over status of English in Hong Kong

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If she was having a bad day back at work after celebrating her first anniversary as Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor certainly bit off more than she could chew when she became irritated over having to answer a question in English.

Just before her weekly meeting with her advisers in the Executive Council, Lam stopped by the mic stand to take a few questions from waiting reporters in what is an obligatory ritual every Tuesday morning. But a question in English from a reporter for public radio seemed to test her patience.

“In future, we’d better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media stand-up, because I [keep on] repeating answers,” she said. “I have answered exactly the same question in Cantonese, so I’m going to repeat what I said in Cantonese. But in future, the director of information services may consider a better arrangement so that we don’t need to waste time.”

Lam got it wrong on so many levels here that even her supporters were left wondering how an administrator of her vintage could appear so clueless about something like this.

To begin with, it was not a repetitive question, as she assumed. She was first asked in Chinese if she would unveil her plans for land reclamation in her policy address later this year, and the follow-up question in English was on whether she would take public opinion into account. Even if she had been asked to repeat the answer in English, it’s a regular request that she and other top officials have readily complied with on countless occasions. That’s how all media sessions are conducted in Hong Kong and Lam is fully aware of it.

Her No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, often repeats answers in........

© South China Morning Post