Government Official is Rude: Shock, Horror

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If you ever needed proof of the capricious nature of politics (I’m sure you don’t, but allow me the gambit) take a look at the amusing exchange that took place recently between Hong Kong’s Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing and the de facto opposition leader Anson Chan. Tsang accused Chan of being a “sudden democrat” who “suddenly cares about people’s livelihoods,” while Chan, who heads the “pan-democrat” caucus in the legislature, professed herself “flabbergasted” by what she described as a personal attack. The local press played it big, and the chattering classes spluttered over their green tea frappucinos as if it were the first time a government official had been ungracious.
It could have been worse, of course. Elsewhere in China, opposition figures aren’t simply hectored by officials—they’re sent to gulags. And besides, Tsang is partly right. Chan is, at least outwardly, a sudden democrat. There’s nothing wrong with that—better a sudden democrat than no democrat—but it is correct that as the former Chief Secretary of the British colonial government, Chan administered a deeply undemocratic apparatus. It was, in fact, the same apparatus that imprisoned Tsang Tak-sing for two years when he was still a teenager (although Chan was not party to that decision). His crime—distributing leaflets criticizing the education system—was inconsequential, but his timing, coming during the leftist-inspired unrest that shook Hong Kong in 1967, was most ill advised. Now, however, their roles are mysteriously reversed: Chan is the freedom fighter, Tsang the conservative bureaucrat. You can see why Tsang is feeling tetchy.
Some commentators have come to his defense. To them, his student activism and jail time, brief thought that was, give him an aura of anti-colonial credibility. Chan worked for whitey, the argument goes, whereas Tsang fought them. Bravo. But it must also be pointed out that where Chan is a sudden democrat, Tsang is a hardline supporter of the vehemently anti-democratic Communist Party. Before being appointed to the post-handover government, Tsang edited Ta Kung Pao—a local newspaper that was no more than Beijing’s mouthpiece. He also served as a deputy in the National People’s Congress—the pseudo-legislature that gives robotic approval to the party’s policies. He’s going to get nowhere attacking Chan’s democratic credentials, in other words, and she won’t do the democratic cause any good by getting all “flabbergasted” at the first sign of official truculence.