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Leung Chun-ying

Raised eyebrows, tight facial muscles and an uneven smile: how a handshake reveals Xi Jinping’s lack of confidence in CY Leung

A behavioural expert in Cambodia, who has not followed local politics, interprets the exchange between leaders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 8:43am

The handshake and chat between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Beijing on Monday may have lasted for only about one minute, but a body language expert has said Xi’s facial expressions gave away his mixed confidence in Leung.

Dr Leow Chee-seng, a professor of non-verbal communication and human behaviour at the IIC University of Technology in Cambodia, was analysing footage of the exchanges between mainland and Hong Kong leaders after Leung was elevated to the post of vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Leung was appointed on the last day of the annual meeting of the nation’s top advisory body on Monday.

Leow, who has not followed local politics closely, believed that while Xi was showing support for Leung, deep down, he doubted Leung’s management style.

“Xi will keep a close eye on his performance. It is like parents allowing their kids to go out, but actually they are worried,” Leow said.

Leung’s latest posting as an elder statesman came three months after his shocking announcement not to seek a second term as Hong Kong’s leader, amid a plunge in his popularity ratings.

Leung was showered with approval by state leaders after he won the majority of votes from more than 2,000 CPPCC delegates for his new role.

It is like parents allowing their kids to go out, but actually they are worried
Dr Leow Chee-seng, IIC University of Technology in Cambodia

This was followed by a handshake and a 45-second chat with Xi.

Leow used software to dissect the video of the exchange into 0.125-second segments to observe Xi’s micro expressions.

He said that while Xi was trying to empower Leung, the president’s raised eyebrows, contracted ocular muscle around his eyes and asymmetrical smile showed he actually lacked confidence in Leung.

“The raising of his eyebrows showed concern and interest [in the initial conversation], but the slight contraction of ocular muscle revealed his doubts,” Leow said.

“Xi kept a tight-lipped and reserved smile during the chat most of the time, which indicated that he had a wait-and-see attitude,” Leow added.

The professor noted that later in the chat, Xi also tilted his head down with a smile but made no eye contact with Leung.

The president then ended the dialogue with an asymmetrical smile of “contempt”, which suggested that while he was giving authority to Leung, he was “not very confident in him”, Leow said.

Leow also studied Leung’s manner in which he walked up the stage to bow to the audience after his vice-chairmanship was confirmed.

“The even stride length showed his confidence. However, you can tell that his stress level increased when he tightened his fist before bowing to the audience,” Leow said.