What is Carrie Lam’s game plan as Hong Kong’s chief executive makes rare trek to Davos?

The chief executive could be sending a message to world leaders that Hong Kong still enjoys autonomy and the rule of law, experts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 10:52pm

Hong Kong’s top official, a rare guest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is likely on a mission to sell the city as still autonomous and attractive to the world, experts say.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will next week appear at the Davos forum, an annual gathering of global elites which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump this year.

The only chief executives who attended the summit in the past were Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2012 and Tung Chee-hwa in 1999.

“The chief executive has always said she would like to take more opportunities to go overseas to promote Hong Kong,” a spokesman for Lam’s office said this week.

Lam could be sending a message to world leaders that Hong Kong still enjoyed autonomy and the rule of law, which were key to its success in drawing overseas investors and businesses in the past, according to international relations experts.

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“The Davos meeting is a good networking opportunity, and Carrie Lam will probably make use of it to make the point that China is not interfering in Hong Kong,” said David Zweig, chair professor of social sciences at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Critics have accused China of tightening its grip on the city as thorny issues such as renewed calls for national security legislation, the co-location immigration arrangements over a cross-border rail link and festering calls for independence continue to bedevil Hong Kong-mainland China relations.

Experts said Lam may also be caught in the power dynamics between the US and China as the world’s first and second largest economies, as Trump’s appearance will follow that of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who defended globalisation and free trade at the meeting last year.

“Hong Kong should present itself as a bridge between China and the US, and make itself attractive to both,” said Sean Kenji Starrs, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong.

Lam, who has visited five countries from Singapore to Saudi Arabia since taking office in July, may also intend to increase her standing among millennials through her efforts in promoting the city’s global image, Starrs said.

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Derek Yuen Mi-chang, policy research director for the New People’s Party, believed Lam should think about Hong Kong’s position with China seeking to export a new world order through schemes such as the “Belt and Road” initiative.

“In the past, Hong Kong has been helping the West export its world order to China,” Yuen said. “Now, it should think about how to follow China’s policies and export China’s world order.”

Instead of touting Hong Kong’s traditional badges such as the rule of law and liberties, Lam should consider providing a reinterpretation of the “one country, two systems” model that would win China and other countries’ confidence, Yuen said.

The four-day summit at Davos will kick off on January 23. This year’s theme is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”.