CHIEF EXECUTIVE RACE

Carrie Lam spells out her vision for Hong Kong as she enters chief executive race

In a rallying call, chief secretary promises to diversify the economy, reach out to young people and safeguard the city’s freedoms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 11:30am

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, formally announced her plan to run for Hong Kong’s top job on Thursday hours after resigning as chief secretary and spelling out an “achievable vision” for the city.

“There is only one reason for me to resign at this juncture,” she said at a 5pm press conference. “That is, if my resignation is approved by the Central People’s Government, I intend to prepare to contest the upcoming chief executive election.”

Watch: Carrie Lam declares bid to lead Hong Kong

Her explanation contrasted with the resignation of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah exactly a month ago in which he refrained from stating explicitly his bid for the chief executive post.

Thirty days after he tendered his notice, Beijing has yet to say a word about it. The Post understands the central government is expected to approve the resignations of both officials next Thursday. By placing both at the same starting point, even though one was earlier off the blocks, Beijing would signal its backing for Lam in the race in March.

Lam, whose campaign team is led by former chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ronald Arculli, will hold a press conference on February 3 on her bid.

Dressed in a rose-coloured cheongsam and a blue jacket, she spoke for four minutes at government headquarters but declined to take questions.

Lam, who tendered her letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in the morning, said it had been “an honour and privilege to have served the people of Hong Kong for the past 36 years”.

If her resignation was approved, she would “find an opportunity to share with you my next steps”, she promised.

Lam, 59, refused to answer when asked if she had won Beijing’s blessing or if she had betrayed her previous pledge to finish her tenure as chief secretary.

At a lunch after a seminar at the Science Park in Sha Tin, Lam, a Catholic, told participants God had called on her to run.

In a statement at 4pm, Leung confirmed he had received her resignation and had submitted it to the central government. Lam goes on leave from today. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung will be the acting chief secretary.

Lam’s press conference capped an eventful day for the veteran civil servant. At a closed-door meeting at the Science Park earlier, she set out what she described as an eight-point “achievable new vision” for Hong Kong.

Topping the list for a city that has become polarised and whose best days pundits claim to be over was a rallying call by Lam to play to the city’s “strengths with determination and confidence”.

Lam also identified the need to promote a diversified economy to create better jobs.

She did not make a direct mention of housing goals – a cornerstone of the Leung government – but instead spoke of the need to support the disadvantaged and to promote balanced development and an inclusive society.

Safeguarding the principle of “one country, two systems” and seizing opportunities were two more goals.

The role of the government, she said, was as “a service provider, facilitator, regulator and ambassador”.

“She called on officials to be innovative and not work in a compartmentalised approach,” a senior official at the seminar said. “She also stressed that the ageing population should not be seen as a big problem because nowadays many elderly people are better educated and they may not rely on welfare payments in future.”

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Her stance appeared calculated to stand in stark contrast to a report released in 2014 by the Long Term Fiscal Planning Working Group formed by Tsang, which warned of the huge financial burden brought by the ageing population.

Path of Democracy think tank convenor Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who attended the seminar, described Lam as “a competent official”.

“Her views on the future and governing Hong Kong are close to those of Path of Democracy but more time is needed to understand in detail how she would govern.”

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Lam later attended an event at the Conrad hotel in Admiralty with colleagues and friends, including the chief executive, Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.

The Election Committee’s 1,194 members, a quarter of whom are from the pan-democratic camp, will select the city’s leader on March 26.

Tsang and Lam are running almost neck and neck in public opinion, according to a survey commissioned by the Post, with the former financial chief ahead by 4.4 percentage points.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung