Carrie Lam says ‘being accountable’ to Beijing doesn’t equate to unquestioning obedience
Hong Kong’s leader vows to push back if Hongkongers find the central government’s plans for the city ‘unfavourable’.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Thursday that being accountable to Beijing did not mean taking every single order handed down by mainland authorities, as she vowed to reflect opposition from Hongkongers if they found Beijing’s plans for the city “unfavourable”.
The chief executive’s comments came after her maiden duty visit to Beijing last week, where she met with President Xi Jinping and other state leaders.
During her three-day trip, Xi praised her for having a “good start” to her term, which began on July 1, and “fostering stability” in the city.
Xi also praised Lam for leading her team of senior officials to attend a seminar on his five-year vision for China, which he delivered at the opening of the Communist Party’s 19th congress in October. He was referring to last month’s talk by senior party theorist Leng Rong for 240 Hong Kong officials.
Lam was asked in an interview with RTHK, broadcast on Thursday, if she would do her best to fulfil every order from Beijing.
She began her response by noting that according to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the chief executive is accountable towards both the special administrative region and the central government.
But in her book, “being accountable” did not equate to doing everything she was told, she said.
“Being accountable is to consider things thoroughly, to analyse and make judgments of your own, and [make sure] that it in the public’s interest. This includes both the country’s interest, and Hong Kong’s public interest,” she said.
“If the central government asks me to do something, and I feel that it is [beyond] the level that Hong Kong residents can bear, and it is not very favourable for the city’s development, of course I am responsible for telling the central government and asking for a more favourable arrangement for Hong Kong.”
As she wrapped up her duty visit last week, Lam had reiterated that “it is Hong Kong’s constitutional responsibility to enact” Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires the establishment of laws that prohibit treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.
She acknowledged that it was up to her as the city’s leader to create “favourable conditions” in society for the national security law.
But in the RTHK interview, Lam made it clear that it would be difficult to start the process in the coming year.
“I cannot talk about the timing now, but at least it would be hard in the next 12 months,” she said.
Who are the 11 new Hongkongers elected to China’s legislature – and what impact will they have on policy making?
Lam added that conditions favourable for the controversial legislation could be created on both the political and socio-economic fronts.
“When society knows that Hong Kong’s economy is good … and it should not be destroyed by one or two political issues, that’s a favourable precondition.”
A move to pass national security legislation was shelved in 2003 after half a million people took to the streets in protest.
Last month, the issue resurfaced in public discussion after a senior mainland official who specialises in the Basic Law, Li Fei, chastised Hong Kong for dragging its feet on enacting the law. He said that recent advocacy of independence and separation from China by some members of society showed the city was paying the price for the delay.
Since the start of Lam’s term, her ministers had been travelling to Beijing to meet mainland officials.
Asked if it was because Beijing wanted to instruct them on Hong Kong affairs, Lam said: “It was not [for that purpose]. It was my under my instruction. It was because I hoped that this government can catch the ‘high-speed train’ of national development, so that our economy will get better.”
“Sometimes I suspect that [officials at Beijing’s] Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office also feel that we have been visiting too often,” she said.
On whether Leng’s talk last month showed that Beijing expected Hong Kong civil servants to know more about both the country and the Communist Party, Lam said: “It is not easy to differentiate because the ruling party’s ideas, views and visions must be closely related to the country’s development.”