My team won’t look to Beijing for help, Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam pledges

Chief executive-elect puts herself at odds with Leung Chun-ying and says ministers in the next administration will be in charge of their own work and cannot rely on liaison office

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 11:39pm

Ministers in the incoming administration will “be in charge of their own work” rather than rely on the central government’s officials in the city to push their agenda, Hong Kong’s chief executive-elect pledged as she sought to distinguish herself from her predecessor.

“Under the high degree of autonomy, SAR government officials should be in charge of their own work,” Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.

“I will see that as the guiding principle of the new cabinet,” the former chief secretary stressed in a radio interview.

During Leung’s tenure, the liaison office – the main bridge of communication between Hong Kong and mainland China – has been accused of becoming involved in local politics.

A number of pro-establishment legislators have admitted the office lobbied them to back the local government’s unpopular bills and funding requests, or help block some motions that pan-democrats had wished to push forward in the legislature.

“Why would we need so many people to help [canvass votes] even from the pro-establishment bloc? Why can’t we secure their votes?” Lam asked. “This is something that we should reflect on.”

Lam said she believed the liaison office often decided to weigh in after being “informed” that the administration had failed to secure sufficient votes to get bills and funding requests passed.

She promised the next administration would change that and improve its own lobbying efforts as ministers should be the ones most familiar with policies and knew where political compromises lay.

“Hongkongers have hoped the ‘one country, two systems’ model would be upheld ... and we should respond immediately if our work has created some perception which hampers their confidence in that,” she said, referencing the principle under which the city enjoys special rights and freedoms not granted to cities on the mainland.

The popularity of Lam, Beijing’s preferred choice for city leader, plunged during the campaign as word spread that the liaison office had lobbied for her behind the scenes.

“Many labels have been put on me [during the race] and I would let [the liaison office] know about the issue of public perception,” she said, referring to her looming meeting with the office.

Her meeting was reportedly due to take place on Tuesday but was postponed until Wednesday at the earliest. Lam braved the morning rush hour to take the MTR and a minibus for her radio interview and gave her first public speech as chief executive-elect, saying she would host a summit on tax reform.

She is set to meet the other two mainland agencies in the city – the Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, which helps the government on bilateral issues with foreign governments, and the People’s Liberation Army.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who dropped out of the chief executive race after failing to muster enough support, said Lam had good intentions but could not avoid the liaison office as “a lot of people would consider the views of the central government” before casting their votes.

Lam also said she was seeking young talent to fill her cabinet and hoped to appoint at least three women ministers. She was the only woman among the 16 top officials appointed by Leung.