Law Chi-kwong progresses from Shanghai snub to top Hong Kong ministerial post

In 2004 the then Democratic Party member was refused entry to Shanghai; 13 years later he is about to become city’s labour minister with Beijing’s blessing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 7:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 7:31am

In August 2004, founding Democratic Party member Dr Law Chi-kwong arrived at the airport in Shanghai for a six-day academic visit, believing he should be able to enter after securing permission from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

It did not go as planned. He was barred from entering and even had his home return permit confiscated by the mainland authorities.

“The country thinks that your entry is against the interests of the country. As to what the matter is, you should know well,” he quoted mainland officials as saying.

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Thirteen years later, Beijing approved chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s choice of Law to become the new labour and welfare minister.

The 63-year-old quit the party before his ministerial position was officially announced.

He started his academic career at the University of Hong Kong in 1981 and has served on numerous government bodies, including the Commission on Poverty and the Community Care Fund Task Force.

In 1999, when Law was still a Democratic Party lawmaker, he opposed introducing a minimum wage in Hong Kong. He said small fast food shops would be hit hard, while big chains would survive and sell their food at a higher price. Large corporations practising economies of scale could then monopolise the market, he warned.

Speaking just recently, Law told the Post he opposed a minimum wage at the time because the economy was not in a good shape. In 1999, the unemployment rate stood at 6.3 per cent—7.2 per cent among men and 4.9 per cent among women.

The unemployment rate is now 3.2 per cent.

Another criticism was his support for a lump-sum grant policy for social welfare agencies in 2001, which critics said allowed them to misuse government funding and spend less money on their staff.

He later pledged to identify the policy’s shortcomings and make improvements.

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On the political front, his stance has sometimes set him apart from other pan-democrats.

At the height of the Occupy movement in 2014, when thousands of protesters were occupying the streets of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to press for democracy, he sent an email to fellow academics, appealing to them to ask their students to retreat.

“Things could turn very drastic ... I am begging everyone I know to leave,”he wrote.

The incoming minister has declined to discuss his views on the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown after his new job was officially announced. He said it was “not suitable” to talk publicly about the subject despite admitting to harbouring his “own views and feelings”.

Just two weeks before, Law said Beijing had the responsibility to give an account of the events because people had lost their lives in the movement.

Incumbent Secretary for Labour and Welfare Stephen Sui Wai-keung is confident about Dr Law, saying he is not like some other academics, who live in an ivory tower.

“He is a kind-hearted person who does not blindly insist on his own views. He has experience [in various roles],” Sui said.