Departing US consul general Stephen Young, kept busy by whistle-blower Edward Snowden's surprise stopover in Hong Kong, fired some sarcastic parting shots at the media yesterday.
But he said he believed the damaged trust between the United States and Hong Kong could be repaired and pointed to encouraging signs of emerging universal suffrage.
At a media event before he departs for the US next week, Young was asked by a journalist from the Beijing-loyal Ta Kung Pao when the US government would reply on whether it had been hacking into the city's computers.
"Well, I thank you for all of your objective reporting at Ta Kung Pao, first of all. And if you don't get the sarcasm, it's there," Young replied. "I do wish you'd be more objective. But I know you have your master in Beijing."
Another journalist asked how the diplomat felt about protests by pro-democracy activists and Snowden supporters who said they no longer saw the US as a symbol of democracy. "Actually that was a plot by us," he joked.
"You see, as Ta Kung Pao regularly reports, along with Wen Wei Po and others, we actually fund and direct the pan-democrats so we have them coming to demonstrate outside our consulate to throw people off the scent."
After answering several questions from an i-Cable journalist, Young said that anyone who asked only a single question would get an "extra credit".
And when a South China Morning Post journalist identified himself and said he wanted to ask two questions, Young said: "You just lost your credit."
The Post had an exclusive interview with Snowden last month in which he claimed the US government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong for years.
Sarcastic remarks aside, Young said he had a generally optimistic view of Hong Kong's future and believed that the damaged trust between the US and Hong Kong could be restored.
He said Snowden had made a lot of allegations, some of which seemed to be "self-serving to gain sympathy", and he did not think the US needed to apologise to anyone for someone who had violated his country's trust.
On universal suffrage in 2017, Young said he was encouraged by the central government liaison office's decision to have lunch with lawmakers, as well as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's plan to have dinner with people including the pan-democrats.
Asked if he supported the Occupy Central movement, he said he backed moves towards genuine universal suffrage but such moves should stay within the law.
The Snowden saga had no direct connection to the bill that would add Hong Kong to the US visa-waiver scheme, Young said.