Questions raised over mainland role in rescue and Li Gang's appearance
The mainland authorities' response to the accident, including the deployment of salvage ships, has raised questions, given that the government showed it was more than capable of handling the disaster on its own.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, in particular, was criticised for allowing a senior figure from the central government's liaison office to play a key role.
Last night, Leung said the government's request for help from mainland ships was because of the many casualties. He said the priority was to use Hong Kong's rescue forces in any accident.
Another curious feature was a headline that state broadcaster China Central Television ran in its main newscast last night. "Comrades [President] Hu Jintao , [Premier] Wen Jiabao and [Vice-President] Xi Jinping … issue important instructions, ordering the Hong Kong government to spare no effort in searching for missing persons, treating the injured and comforting their relatives."
The CCTV report was preceded by the unusual appearance of a Beijing liaison office official with Leung on his first hospital visit hours after the National Day tragedy on Monday night.
Li Gang, deputy head of the liaison office, spoke for two minutes at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, detailing how he felt and what Guangdong authorities would do to help.
Li - who has no role in the city's administration - went a step further, becoming the first public figure to confirm deaths. "We are deeply sorry about the deceased citizens," he said.
Guangdong, meanwhile, sent four big salvage ships that were eventually not used because, sources said, the waters at the scene were too shallow.
The vessels left the city's waters yesterday.
Leung said: "Whether the support is offered from mainland or foreign organisations, the Hong Kong government should consider it."
Maritime architect Louis Szeto Ka-sing said sending four big ships was a waste of resources given the size of the accident.
Leung said it was Li who requested the hospital visit.
Political commentator Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, described Beijing's high-profile response as "an over-expression of concern", considering "it was not an accident with tens of thousands of casualties".
Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said Li's action could "weaken Leung's authority … Knowing that [Li's appearance] would touch Hongkongers' nerves, Leung still did it anyway."
Additional reporting by Simpson Cheung