Does Leung Chun-ying want greater or less border integration with the mainland?
The answer seems to depend on the time of day and to whom the chief executive is speaking. Last week, asked at a public forum about a controversial plan to build new border towns in the northeast New Territories, he said there was no question of an intention to integrate as their aim was only to serve Hong Kong people, who would always come first.
Then, before many mainland honchos at National Day celebration yesterday, Leung sang a different tune. He said increasing integration was the key to solving many social problems in Hong Kong. Come again? Many locals think, rightly or wrongly, that integration is the very source of many social problems, from the influx of unruly mainland tourists to Beijing's real or imagined interference in local affairs. Leung is, of course, well aware of the rising public anger. But he was speaking on stage to his mainland bosses.
Pearl River Delta integration has been a reality for three decades. Our economic future is tied to the north. Until recently, these issues were obvious and uncontested. But lately Hong Kong has developed its own identity politics. Many believe our "core" values are being threatened by integration. Some of us have turned against all things mainland and do not want more integration.
Leung has to serve two masters - Beijing and Hong Kong. But sometimes it's better to try to be a statesman than a chameleon. Leung should have the backbone to speak hard truths to both sides.
"People of Hong Kong, let's face reality. When the mainland sneezes, we don't just catch a cold, we develop pneumonia. Integration is a fact, and our future depends on it. But while we can't reject it wholesale, we can deal with problems such as reducing the numbers of pregnant mainland visitors and tourists.
"To our national leaders, I say many Hong Kong people love China. But they express it not through waving the flag or singing the national anthem, but by protesting for dissidents and against national education. Their sentiment is unlikely to change and will only harden. We must deal with it wisely so the gulf between protesters and governors does not become unbridgeable."