Former chief secretary Stephen Lam upbeat on Hong Kong in UK speech
Former chief secretary gives an upbeat speech in Britain on the state of affairs in Hong Kong, with remarks that echo his time as a minister
Tanna Chong in Oxford, England
Stephen Lam Sui-lung - nicknamed the "human recorder" - was in top form when he made his first public appearance since leaving the government. He treated a British audience to a rosy view of Hong Kong and the success of "one country, two systems".
The optimism of the former chief secretary in a speech at the University of Oxford contrasts with growing concerns over Beijing's perceived influence on Hong Kong's affairs and fears of a weakening of the rule of law, but was similar to remarks he was known for as an official.
"I have always said if anyone can make 'one country, two systems' work, we can. And we did," said Lam (pictured), who earned his nickname for endlessly repeating government policy and giving the same answers, no matter what question he was asked.
As the minister in charge of electoral reform in 2010, Lam also expressed full confidence that universal suffrage was "a promise" from Beijing.
"The central government wanted to help Hong Kong along and that is why the universal suffrage timetable was adopted in 2007," Lam said, referring to the National People's Congress Standing Committee's decision to allow the election bty universal suffrage of the chief executive in 2017 and the Legislative Council in 2020.
"So, in a way, the ball is now in Hong Kong's court," he said, adding that his confidence "does not lie in any particular government but in the viability of Hong Kong as a society".
His upbeat speech for the university's Mok Hing Yiu lecture series, at St Hugh's College, to an audience that included many Hong Kong students left political analysts wondering if the former official, now studying theology, was leaving a back door open for a political return.
The similarity between his public and private personas also wasn't lost on his listeners.
"I really want to thank you for speaking like a government minister even after you retired. That is very valuable for us," said one politics student from Hong Kong. "Do you think you have any personal responsibility to promote democratisation in Hong Kong?"
Lam said he spoke from his "heart of hearts" as a private individual with "a very frank attitude", adding: "All of us have a role to play [in democratisation]."
Brushing aside suggestions of Communist Party influence in Hong Kong, Lam said such arguments simply underlined the openness of Hong Kong society.
"The fairness of the electoral system will guarantee that no political party, including those from the mainland, can sway public opinion in Hong Kong," he said. No one can determine how many votes can go to a party."
He also stressed the maturity of rule of law, despite recent controversial remarks by former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie, who said Hong Kong judges lacked understanding of the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, giving rise to rulings in which the top court superseded the central government's power.
Another Hong Kong student, Ting Wang-leung, who came from London to attend the lecture, said he felt Lam spoke with reservations.
"He certainly spoke [as though] he might want to leave himself a back door for getting back to politics someday," said Ting, who is pursuing a politics doctorate at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said Lam was always careful to leave a door open for himself in public and private arenas.
"[Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying faces a lot of governance problems and it is unclear whether he can finish a five-year term. It is possible that Lam may return to politics as his carefulness has earned him trust from Beijing."
Lam was secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs from July 2002 to September 2011. He was then chief secretary until June last year.