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Carrie Lam

Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam shows she has a mind of her own

Alice Wu says in just a week since her election, the chief executive-elect has shown that she does not need to be told what to do. And that message has been heard not just by the city’s people, but also Beijing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 April, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 April, 2017, 6:59pm

Hong Kong chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has certainly kept herself very busy. There is, of course, the very important work of getting her governing team together, but Lam has got that under control.

Even if the “race” was, for all intents and purposes, “predetermined”, now that the dust has settled, it would be wise perhaps for us to refrain from making prejudgments. Lam is most probably not going to enjoy a honeymoon period, something that is becoming less of a political entitlement nowadays anyway.

The fine line that separates healthy political scepticism and utterly demoralising fatalism may be hard to pinpoint, but for our sanity and the greater good, and not solely for Lam’s benefit, we must try to – as many say – “look forward”. Some may be tempted to stay bitter and angry, or to disengage, but that would only feed the spirit of resignation. And that would be the ultimate way of relinquishing the people’s power in this city’s future.

There are indeed things to “look forward” to.

On July 1, we will have ourselves a new chief executive – this is something we were not at all sure of until December last year.

On July 1, this city will also have our first female chief executive.

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There will be plenty of opportunities to judge, bang the gavel in the court of public opinion and hold Lam in collective contempt after she takes office. To Lam’s credit, she has, in the span of just one week, given us plenty of reasons to look forward to July 1 and beyond.

To get Beijing to publicly agree that she can run things her way was no easy feat

Surely, officially charging Occupy Central leaders a day after Lam’s election did not make her life any easier, nor did the current administration’s refusal to scrap the Territory-wide System Assessment that Lam has pledged to do away with. Unfazed, Lam reiterated her pledge to scrap it after she takes office. The refusal gave her a chance to distance herself from the current administration, and facilitated a rare pan-democratic and pro-establishment collaboration in the Legislative Council, with 36 legislators issuing a joint letter to demand that the government drops its plans to reintroduce the tests this year.

Lam also managed to distance herself from Beijing’s “tentacles” in Hong Kong. Moments after getting elected, she set the record straight over visits to the central government’s liaison office. Having seen and understood public anger over what is perceived to be Beijing’s interference in local affairs, she made it clear that her visits to the liaison office and other mainland agencies in the city would be courtesy calls, part of the official protocol – no more and no less.

She postponed those meetings by a day – allowing time for her message that ministers in her administration would be “in charge of their own work” to sink in. Her courtesy call to the liaison office turned into an affirmation of that message. To get Beijing to publicly agree that she can run things her way was no easy feat.

Lam’s timing for getting that message across was perfect. She has shown herself to be more than just capable; she was level-headed, “neither defiant nor submissive”, to borrow a phrase by the late Lee Kuan Yew, who advised the iron lady Margaret Thatcher on how to work with Beijing.

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Lam then ended her day of official courtesy visits by attending a mass for former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, now serving time for misconduct in office. Her attendance at this event, of her own volition, could not be more telling of the tone Lam is determined to set for herself.

I am certain she has surprised not only Hongkongers. Lam is clearly set on showing that she does not need to be told what to do, and in today’s Hong Kong, that makes an outstanding statement.

It will also be interesting to see how the pro-establishment camp adjusts during this transition period.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA