Beijing expects Carrie Lam to pass one more test: the enactment of Article 23 national security laws
Alice Wu says the Hong Kong chief executive’s shining report card – the joint checkpoint, the ban on the National Party – is not enough for the central government. She needs to take note of the calls for action from Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s man in Beijing
During a public appearance on September 28, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor declared she was shutting herself in a room to prepare a policy address that would shore up her popularity, following the storm of bad press over the government’s failure to anticipate the post-Typhoon Mangkhut chaos. Hours later, she clarified that she had been joking. Jokes may not be her strongest suit, but she must know there is a lot riding on Wednesday’s policy address.
Lam cannot be accused of being unprepared. Everything has been meticulously planned and timed ahead of the address. The public consultation on land supply, the opening of the West Kowloon terminus, the operation of the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link, and the ban on the National Party all happened just in the nick of time. It’s no coincidence – they are meant to show what she has accomplished.
The opening of the West Kowloon terminus and getting the trains running were no small feats. Although it would be unfair to say it was all Lam’s doing, it is true that it was Lam who ultimately delivered. The co-location arrangement was controversial, perhaps even more than the express rail project, which was fiercely opposed from the beginning by the villagers of Choi Yuen and activists.
Yet, Lam pulled it off, even with all the decidedly unhelpful MTR scandals. With her predecessor Leung Chun-ying’s obsession with disqualifying lawmakers tipping the political balance in the legislature, and iron lady Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee chairing the Legislative Council co-location bill committee, the stars that mattered were aligned for Lam.
More importantly, the express rail link marks Lam’s victory against those who are adamantly opposed to connectivity between Hong Kong and the mainland. Also, in banning the National Party, she has outdone her predecessors. These are the accomplishments that lend credibility to Lam within the corridors of power in Zhongnanhai.
But Lam is also eager to please the Hong Kong public and check off items on her to-do list from her last policy address. The Task Force on Land Supply’s public consultation is expected to pave the path for Lam’s housing policy, which she herself has said is “the priority of priorities”. Lam has been trying to show she is at the helm and Wednesday’s policy address is the perfect opportunity to showcase her ability – yet, she may get tripped up by a most unlikely person, Tam Yiu-chung.
Tam, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, has repeatedly and openly told the Lam administration to enact Article 23. He is known to be as steady as a rock within his political party, meaning that he can be trusted to think before he speaks.
So, Tam’s persistence in broaching the subject of Article 23 – despite Lam’s statement that her team is still creating “favourable conditions” to pass the national security law – is something the administration should take careful note of.
Tam is surely too seasoned a politician to be telling a woman what to do. So perhaps he has been given the assignment by Beijing, which might expect more than a joint checkpoint and a ban on the National Party.
Indeed, as China is confronted with more hostility abroad – not only in the trade war with the United States – Beijing has seemed hypersensitive when it comes to assessing threats and keeping all on a tight leash.
Lam’s greatest challenge is to earn credibility with Beijing without losing credibility at home and abroad. How she responds to Tam’s Article 23 challenge will be the truest test of her political ability.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA