Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam makes point of taking English questions after backlash and apology over blunt response
Chief executive even singles out reporter from English-language media outlet who was trying to be heard
One week after Hong Kong’s leader apologised for her blunt remarks suggesting she was sidelining the use of English, she made it a point to respond to questions in the language during her weekly Tuesday meeting with the press.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor even singled out a reporter from an English-language media outlet who was trying to be heard.
“Let the English-speaking reporter ask [his question],” the chief executive said to the group of about a dozen reporters before she met her advisers, the Executive Council.
During the 23-minute question-and-answer session, Lam also obliged a request to repeat an English answer in Chinese.
Last Tuesday, she ruffled feathers with her reply to a government radio reporter’s question in English.
Smiling but sounding impatient, Lam said she had already given an answer in Cantonese, and while she would say it again in English, the director of information services, Cathy Chu Man-ling, should come up with a “better arrangement” so she would not have to repeat herself.
“In future, we’d better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media stand-up, because I [keep] on repeating the answers … I have answered exactly the same question in Cantonese, so I’m going to repeat what I said in Cantonese. But in future, the director of information services may consider a better arrangement so that we don’t need to waste time,” Lam said, before answering the question in English.
There was a backlash from the city’s English-speaking community, which is used to the regular practice of reporters asking government officials to repeat answers in English for the benefit of the non-Chinese media. Critics also asked whether she was no longer going to take questions in English, an official language in Hong Kong along with Chinese.
This resulted in the leader issuing a late-night apology for “any confusion” caused by her remarks.
She assured Hongkongers she had no intention of changing the format of her media briefings on Tuesdays, and stressed that neither she nor the government had attached less importance to the use of English.
“There should be no doubt about my commitment to responding to questions from reporters in the same language that the question is asked,” she added.
On Tuesday, she did not miss a beat when a Chinese television station reporter asked her to repeat the answer she gave an English-speaking reporter from government radio about the appointment of a judge-led commission, which will be tasked to investigate shoddy work at a station of the MTR Corporation’s Sha Tin-Central rail link project.
“Can you repeat in Chinese what you’ve said in English?” the TVB reporter asked.
Lam immediately switched to Cantonese and repeated her answer.
She also made sure to devote equal attention to the different language media – taking questions from four reporters altogether, two representing English outlets and two from Chinese media.