Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apologized for “causing confusion” over comments she made yesterday that answering reporters’ questions in English was a “waste of time.”
In a statement published late last night, the city’s leader said: “There is no question of the Government or myself attaching less importance to the use of English.”
The furore began when Lam, during her regular media stand-up before an Executive Council (ExCo) meeting, was asked a question about land supply by an RTHK reporter in English, and expressed dismay that she’d already answered a similar question in Cantonese.
“Well, I think in future we’d better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media standup because I kept on repeating the answers at each standup,” she said.
“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.”
In the statement, she said the issue of a simultaneous interpreter were prompted by the consideration that the the pre-ExCo media briefings — unlike a press conference — lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, and that responding to the same question in different languages takes up time that might otherwise be used to raise other media questions.
She added that she will not change the format of the weekly press briefing that she holds every Tuesday before ExCo meetings, and that her remarks were “not targeted at the English language.”
Lam’s comments yesterday sparked backlash among the city’s lawmakers and journalists.
I first wrote about #HK govt officials refusing and being reluctant to answer questions in English in 2000. If anything, it's got worse. HK officials have no right to claim this is an international city or bemoan declining English standards if this is their attitude.
— Yuen Chan (@xinwenxiaojie) July 3, 2018
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau described the chief executive’s response as “totally inappropriate and insane” given that the government touts Hong Kong as Asia’s ‘World City’, and the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association called on the city’s leader to retract her comments, RTHK reports.
HKJA chairman Chris Yeung said Lam had missed the point of speaking in English, adding that the city’s non-Chinese speakers would still like to hear from the chief executive directly on important matters.
He said: “Her remarks are an embarrassment and not surprisingly, her office has tried to control the damage. But I think the damage is done.”
Hong Kong Unison — an NGO that supports the city’s ethnic minority population — said Lam’s remarks were “insulting to the ethnic and linguistic minorities and clearly contradicts government’s policies to promote cultural diversity,” adding that Hong Kong’s non-Chinese speaking population rely on English, yet there has been a decline in information available in the language.