Unite and seize opportunities, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says in National Day speech
Chief executive cites President Xi Jinping during his July visit, and reminds city that it will always have strong backing of China
Hong Kong’s leader said on Sunday the city could continue to contribute to mainland China as long as it stayed united, just hours before thousands of residents took to the streets to oppose the central and local governments’ “authoritarian rule”.
The remarks by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on the 68th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China came at the start of the city’s National Day celebrations on Sunday, marked by a flag-raising ceremony in the morning and a firework display over Victoria Harbour in the evening.
But while some enjoyed the celebrations, thousands of others vented their anger over the imprisonment of prominent activists, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, for their roles in unlawful protests in 2014, as well as the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers over their oath-taking antics last year. Protesters demanded the justice secretary step down for what they claimed was his role in eroding the city’s rule of law.
In her first National Day speech since taking office in July, Lam did not echo recent warnings by central government officials against calls for Hong Kong independence. Instead, the chief executive claimed the city had benefited and taken part in national reform and progress over the past two decades as a special administrative region of China.
She recalled visiting Beijing as a student leader in 1979, and how she was impressed with the country’s advances since then.
Lam was addressing more than 3,000 officials and dignitaries from the city, the mainland and foreign countries at a cocktail reception in the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Lam and Beijing officials had earlier criticised activists for advocating Hong Kong’s separation from China, after pro-independence banners and posters on university campuses in the city last month surfaced and triggered a heated row.
But in her seven-minute speech on Sunday morning, Lam did not mention the saga, choosing instead to invoke the words of President Xi Jinping used during his visit to Hong Kong in July.
“President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong to join us in celebrating the 20th birthday of the Hong Kong SAR … [he] stated clearly that Hong Kong has always had, and will continue to have the strong backing of our motherland,” she said.
Lam also cited the president’s remarks that China’s prosperity would not only help Hong Kong in overcoming challenges, but would also provide opportunities for the city “to seek new impetus as well as an expanded scope for such development”.
“During the past three months ... I have been deeply impressed by the strength bestowed upon us by our country and the immense opportunities,” Lam added.
She said that on her overseas visits to countries such as Britain and Singapore, she saw great interests in China’s trade strategy, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, while in meetings with mainland officials, she had observed that they recognised and valued Hong Kong’s advantages.
“As long as we capitalise on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights.
“I also believe that this ‘Pearl of the Orient’ of our country will continue to shine, contributing to the development of our country and becoming an even better place to live in,” Lam concluded.
In an interview with state-owned agency China News Service, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who was also at Sunday’s event, said Hong Kong would continue to contribute to China and benefit from its development, claiming it was the country’s most internationalised and open city.
In his first interview since stepping down as chief executive on June 30, Leung also said that as a director of two non-profit-making companies named after Beijing’s belt and road plan and the “Greater Bay Area” project, he hoped to foster deeper exchanges between Hong Kong, mainland China and southeast and central Asian countries.
Leung is now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body.
Before the cocktail reception, Lam was among 2,400 officials and guests who attended a special flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square outside the convention centre.
Other guests included former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, Beijing’s liaison office chief Wang Zhimin, Executive Council members, the city’s lawmakers and Lam’s husband, Lam Siu-por.
But former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was convicted of misconduct in public office in February this year, did not attend. On Tuesday, Tsang pleaded not guilty to another count of accepting an advantage in his position from January 2010 and June 2012. The trial is expected to last 25 days.
A group of protesters from the political groups League of Social Democrats and Demosisto marched to the Golden Bauhinia Square to protest against the local “autocracy’s political prosecution”, which they said had led to the jailing of prominent activists such as Occupy leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung.
In a statement, Demosisto said its protests were met with revulsion by some in the public. It added that a few protesters had been injured as they were expelled by security guards at the event site.