Carrie Lam

In a first, Hong Kong leader attends anniversary party for city’s pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union

Gesture by Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seen as another move to mend strained relations with opposition camp

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2018, 7:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2018, 10:25am

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Saturday became the first Hong Kong leader to attend an anniversary celebration for the city’s pro-democracy teachers’ union, in what was seen as a further step to “breaking the ice” between officials and the opposition camp.

Lam put in an appearance at a cocktail reception for the 45th anniversary of the Professional Teachers’ Union, which represents more than 90,000 educators.

“I didn’t know I was the first chief executive to be invited. No wonder some recent reports said my attendance today was a move to ‘break the ice’ or ‘thaw’ relations,” Lam said in a speech.

“I’ve received a lot of invitations as chief executive, but rarely do I get invitations that request my presence in such a simple, straightforward manner, like it was natural that I should be here ... To me, I believe it is a given.”

Lam’s participation marks the latest in a series of overtures in recent months to reach out to her political opponents, including with informal dinners and surprise donations.

In March, Lam attended the 23rd anniversary dinner of the Democratic Party – the city’s biggest opposition party – and offered HK$30,000 (US$3,820) out of her own pocket as a form of “reconciliation”.

Her attempts to mend ties with the opposition camp came after relations deteriorated sharply under the previous administration.

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The teachers’ union president, Fung Wai-wah, confirmed Lam was the first leader to receive an invitation to such an event.

“In previous years we’ve always invited the secretary for education for these occasions, but this year we thought, why not try and invite the chief executive? We would like her to be closer to the education sector and listen to more of what our frontline teachers have to say,” Fung said.

The union is considered one of the city’s largest professional bodies adopting a more liberal, pro-democracy stance. Pan-democrat education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen is its vice-chairman.

Fung agreed with Lam that her attendance could help “thaw relations” after the rocky relationship seen with her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.

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“Leung marginalised us and did not even bother to talk things over with us,” Fung said.

“We used to interact and have discussions with Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen all the time,” he added, referring to Hong Kong’s first two chief executives. “I won’t say what Lam did was that much of a breakthrough, but it is somewhat of a step to normalise relations.”

Following her donation to the Democratic Party, Lam became a target of criticism from her political allies who said the offering gave the impression she was trying to “buy goodwill”. They warned it could open the floodgates to different political parties seeking donations.

But in a further sign of friendlier ties, Lam welcomed five pro-democracy lawmakers to her official residence for dinner last month.

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And during her election campaign last year Lam pledged to increase recurrent expenditure on education by HK$5 billion a year, a move largely welcomed by the liberal-leaning education sector.

It became one of her top priorities when she took office last July and was swiftly followed through on.

In her speech on Saturday, Lam touched on how she felt education was the most worthwhile investment for the government, and added that she hoped to achieve a consensus with the sector on key issues needing to be resolved in the coming years.

“We can all rest assured that we will continue to work hard in developing quality education,” Lam said.