Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam blasts UK group’s ‘unfounded and unfair’ report on city
Chief executive takes ‘great exception’ to report compiled by British peer Paddy Ashdown that casts doubts on rule of law and China’s influence over city
Hong Kong’s leader hit back on Tuesday at a British concern group for “interfering” in the city’s internal affairs with “unfounded and unfair” criticism.
And in a first, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed aspects of her working relationship with Beijing’s liaison office in the city, saying she had taken “a slightly more pragmatic” approach – but only invited officials to discuss issues if there was a “mainland [Chinese] angle”.
The 10-page Hong Kong Watch report, compiled by British peer Paddy Ashdown, suggested that recent events had raised concerns about the city’s rule of law, including a constitutionally contentious joint-checkpoint plan that would grant mainland officers almost full jurisdiction over part of the West Kowloon terminus of the cross-border rail link due to open later this year.
“I take great exception to the comments and conclusion in that report. Those comments are totally unfounded and unfair,” Lam said.
“To attack the rule of law in Hong Kong and to allege that China, and this is a word they use, that China continues to ‘erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, thereby breaching an international treaty’, is totally unfounded. We have seen no evidence of that. Quite the contrary, the central government has been fully backing Hong Kong and supporting Hong Kong in our economic and social development.”
Slamming Ashdown’s report for “interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs”, Lam said it was also worrying that some people in the city only attacked Beijing’s liaison office while accepting meddling by foreign organisations. Hong Kong Watch was set up by British human rights activist Benedict Rogers, who was refused entry to the city in October last year.
Reiterating that the core values of the city included the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, Lam again pledged: “I will do my utmost to safeguard those core values.”
Lam made an effort to explain controversial comments by liaison office director Wang Zhimin on Sunday that Beijing’s representative arm in Hong Kong would “walk together” more with the local government.
She said she had taken “a slightly more pragmatic” approach over her working relationship with the liaison office for her term as chief executive.
“To better integrate into national development, we do need a lot more liaison, a lot more understanding, of the national strategies and this is where the role of the liaison office … comes in,” she said. But she made clear that she only invited officials from the office to discuss issues and policies whenever there was a “mainland angle”.
The liaison office’s role is viewed with suspicion by opposition politicians who accuse it of meddling in local affairs beyond its purview. They mock it as “Western district ruling Hong Kong,” a reference to the district where the office is located. But Lam rejected such criticisms on Tuesday, saying Wang’s remarks had been over-interpreted by some.
The liaison office was duty bound to ensure the success of the “one country, two systems” principle, and would fully abide by the Basic Law, Lam said.
She added her cabinet would definitely do its own job in lobbying lawmakers and explaining policies.
However, lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung of the opposition Democratic Party condemned Lam’s remarks, saying it was “appropriate” for a group and members of parliament in Britain to monitor the process of democratisation in Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration which laid the groundwork for the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
“Instead of being defensive, Carrie Lam should re-examine whether our so-called democracy is up to international standards,” Hui said.
Critics of joint checkpoint rail ‘irrational’ as solid legal basis exists for plan, city’s leader says
Ashdown, who sits in Britain’s House of Lords, wrote in the report that the decision of the National People’s Congress to push through the so-called co-location arrangement for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, “despite objections from Hong Kong lawyers that such a move is unconstitutional as it breaches Article 18 of the Basic Law, sets a dangerous precedent”.
Article 18 of the city’s mini-constitution states that national laws shall not be applied to Hong Kong except for those listed in Annex III.
Ashdown also raised fears that the recent change in the Legislative Council’s rule book – which would effectively curb opposition filibustering – would further reduce the power of pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, and lamented the lack of progress in the city’s democratic development.
Ashdown, who was in Hong Kong for a two-day fact-finding mission in November, said the pending enactment of national security legislation had the “potential to breach human rights” and the government should ensure it would be in line with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
He also called on Beijing to uphold the Joint Declaration and the “one country, two systems” principle, and for Britain to continue monitoring the human rights situation in Hong Kong.
Separately, the latest official Communist Party magazine published an article written by Wang on how to manage the six sets of relationships underpinning one country, two systems under the new position anchored by President Xi Jinping.
He repeated the ideas he gave in a speech to senior civil servants and Lam’s cabinet in November, stressing that “one country” was the basis of “two systems”.
Hongkongers, especially the city’s leaders, should know and respect the “Beijing mindset”, to stand at the height of the state and think about the national interest to handle some matters, Wang wrote.