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Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam’s stand on Legco rule book won’t spread any Christmas cheer

Alice Wu reminds Hong Kong’s chief executive of her pledge to ‘heal the divide’, and says her refusal to mediate in Legco tensions over rule book changes ranks nearly on a par with her ill-timed visit to Myanmar at the height of the Rohingya crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 4:08pm

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made her first duty visit to Beijing last week. For two decades, our chief executives have made “bearing gifts” somewhat of a tradition for their duty visits. To have them traverse afar for this is very Christmas-appropriate.

But these duty visits don’t guarantee words of good cheer filling the air. Leaders in Beijing have generally been generous with words of good cheer. But, back in 2004, our first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, received a shockingly strong rebuke when he met then president Hu Jintao.

There were also times when people could not be blamed for feeling that our country’s leaders could be generous to a fault. Remember how then chief executive Leung Chun-ying was lauded by Li Keqiang just last year for being “proactive and pragmatic”? So it is our hope that Lam will not get too hung up on flattery.

Lam flew to Beijing with her public approval rating at its lowest since taking office. Her rating was 59.6 going into her first policy address just two months ago, but has now dropped to 55.7.

Not just a courtesy call: what gifts and guidance can Carrie Lam expect from Beijing?

As for Lam’s first duty visit, the public already knows that one of its key “features” was her signing of “an agreement” to spell out Hong Kong’s role in the “Belt and Road Initiative”. A lot of effort was put into the public display of showcasing Hong Kong’s “place” in the country to the world. Hong Kong’s role was set out by Beijing, and Lam’s office said that the chief executive would just be bringing back homework handed down by the National Development and Reform Commission. Beijing set the tone for Lam’s first duty visit days before she left the tarmac at Chek Lap Kok: “show ’em who’s boss”.

Beijing and Carrie Lam carve out new role for Hong Kong

That is unfortunate, of course, because Lam not only inherited a whole slew of problems and issues from her predecessor, she also inherited the need to deal with an increasingly assertive and expressive Beijing, obviously dismayed by the blatant political taunting of a minority of Hongkongers.

To fight off the “puppet of Beijing” label, which seems to have stuck from one chief executive to another, is going to be most challenging. In August, Lam received a “mansplaining” from the central education minister, Chen Baosheng, on how to do her job. By December, Lam had been given homework.

“O tidings of comfort and joy” this surely is not.

Carrie Lam says she is no puppet

Lam has made missteps herself. The most remarkable one came in the form of her September trip to Myanmar, to talk business while the Rohingya crisis escalated in the background. As missteps go, coming close to tying for top spot with her ill-timed Aung San Suu Kyi photo-op is Lam’s extraordinary rejection of former Legislative Council president Andrew Wong Wang-fat’s call to mediate between rival camps over proposed changes to the lawmakers’ rule book.

If “deeds are more important than words”, as Lam has repeatedly said in public and interviews, this is going to be her greatest self-inflicted wound.

Showdown in Legco over changes to rule book: what’s fuelling the clash?

It’s unbelievable that she responded to the call with, “I really don’t think I have the ability or capacity to mediate in the matter.” What happened to Lam the chief-executive-elect who said, “Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustration. My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration – and to unite our society to move forward”?

Now Lam doesn’t think she has the ability or capacity to mediate?

It’s one thing to have tried and failed. It’s entirely something else to just say, “I can’t and, therefore, I’m not going to try” – that, too, only six months into the job. Well, Mrs Lam – “Bah! Humbug!”

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA