The men who are out to steal a march on Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam

Alice Wu says two of Hong Kong’s former chief executives clearly have it in for the city’s current leader. One is trumpeting his think tank’s own land reclamation plan while the other might be trying to mount a political comeback

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 7:22am

At a televised forum after her policy address, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked who had put the most pressure on her since she took office last year. Lam, of course, responded with her usual line. She retreated behind her husband, Dr Lam Siu-por, saying he was unhappy at how little time she had for him. But she is clearly under pressure from many other men on many fronts.

Starting with Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s representative on the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, who has repeatedly told Lam to enact Article 23, the national security law.

Tam’s own political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong – which he led as chairman from 2007 to 2015 – suffered its greatest setback in 2003, the one and only time Hong Kong tried to push through a national security bill. Why would he and his party be attempting political suicide again? Chances are someone is prodding him to prod Lam.

Whisper it softly – Leung Chun-ying may be back in 2022

We shouldn’t discredit conspiracy theorists who have placed Tam in former chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s “deep blue camp”, given that the perception on the political grapevine has been that Lam’s predecessor is planning his comeback and hoping for a second term in 2022.

The Lam administration has been tight-lipped about its reasons for denying a journalist his work visa. But it isn’t hard to see the move as a reaction to Leung’s over-the-top war on the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, after the club invited independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin to speak.

Leung didn’t simply steal his successor’s thunder, his was clearly a public display of affection for “one country” and a signal to Beijing: let the central government see the difference between his passion and Lam’s nonchalance.

Watch: Hong Kong issues unprecedented ban on Andy Chan’s separatist National Party

‘One country, two systems’ a winner for horse racing in Hong Kong

Although Lam did not commit to enacting Article 23 in her policy address, she made it a point to declare that she would protect national security and “fearlessly take action against” anyone seeking to separate Hong Kong from China and threaten the country’s territorial integrity.

Underlining her stance on “one country”, she also told the various political parties that, “so long as the principle of ‘one country’ is not compromised, there should be plenty of room for collaboration”.

But Lam is also haunted by the ghost of another chief executive past, Tung Chee-hwa. Tung, through his think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, basically preempted Lam by unveiling a Lantau Island reclamation plan before Lam could showcase hers during her policy address.

Watch: Andy Lau voices support for land reclamation

Carrie Lam defends star Andy Lau over support for reclamation

Not only that, Tung’s think tank also roped in superstar Andy Lau for a video of its reclamation plan and released the clip on the eve of Lam’s policy address – just to make sure she would be given no credit for coming up with “Lantau Tomorrow”.

Of course, Lam is not one to take things lying down. She took a swipe at Tung in her policy address, when she reflected on her first year as chief executive and highlighted the need to “decide and proceed after discussions” (議而有決, 決而有行). Her words echoed former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji’s famous criticism of the Tung administration, “discussion without decision and decision without execution” (議而不決, 決而不行), and were obviously meant to make the magnate blush.

Former and aspiring future chief executives aren’t going to let up on their campaigns to undermine her. Perhaps Lam seems an easy target. The law of the jungle prevails in the working world and beyond, where it is so natural to discredit women, talk over them, and steal credit for their work.

But in her address, Lam said she would “remain composed and resilient under pressure”. The lady is no pushover.

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