Carrie Lam

Why did Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam keep mum on national security issues raised by Xi Jinping at closed-door meeting?

  • Chief executive earlier told press that national security legislation did not come up at session
  • Transcript published later shows that president said Hong Kong and Macau should have ‘self-awareness’ in protecting national security
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 11:31pm

Hong Kong's leader took pains on Tuesday to explain why she had earlier omitted to mention that President Xi Jinping had raised national security issues during a closed-door meeting with a delegation from the city.

At a media stand-up on Monday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the issue of national security legislation had not come up at the session. A transcript published hours later by state media showed, however, that Xi said in his 4,600-word speech that Hong Kong and Macau should have “self-awareness” in protecting national security.

Speaking to reporters again before her Executive Council meeting the next morning, Lam took the initiative to say her remarks on Monday had not included all the details from the president’s speech.

“At the time, Xinhua news agency had not yet published President Xi’s remarks from the closed-door meeting. Therefore I could only say briefly that those who attended felt encouraged,” she said.

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Monday’s meeting involved top Hong Kong and Macau officials and more than 200 business and political leaders from the two cities.

After the session, Lam told reporters: “We did not touch on [the issue of national security legislation] at all … But when we talk about standing firm on our root of ‘one country’, and making use of the merits of ‘two systems’, of course, it is our responsibility to safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”

“One country, two systems” is the principle by which Beijing rules Hong Kong while guaranteeing the city a high degree of autonomy.

After clarifying on Tuesday why she had not earlier mentioned Xi’s remarks on national security, Lam said the city’s government would not tolerate calls for Hong Kong independence or acts that might undermine China’s sovereignty, security and development.

“So that is very much in line with that self-awareness to protect national security,” the chief executive said.

While the government would handle the controversial legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law prudently, she said, the authorities would continue to work with existing laws. Since taking office in July last year, Lam has faced increasing pressure from Beijing to enact national security legislation, as required under the city’s mini-constitution.

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The chief executive added that recent actions taken by Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu were a good indication of this self-awareness.

In September, Lee banned the separatist Hong Kong National Party following a recommendation from police, on grounds that the group posed a threat to national security.

Lam added that Xi’s remarks on maintaining one country, two systems showed there was no need to worry about the city losing its edge.

“This clear and strong message can allay some people’s concerns … over whether Hong Kong’s involvement in the country’s development and the Greater Bay Area was a deviation from the one country, two systems principle, and whether Hong Kong’s unique advantages will be weakened,” Lam said.

The Greater Bay Area plan is a Beijing initiative to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the Pearl River Delta into an economic powerhouse rivalling the United State’s Silicon Valley.

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Xi must have brought up the idea of self-awareness in protecting national security during the meeting, adding that multiple delegates who were present were able to recall this.

“Maybe Lam didn’t think it was an important point,” Lau said.

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Lau Siu-kai, vice-chair of semi-official think tank The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said national security was not the main point of Xi’s speech.

“The focus of Xi’s speech was on Hong Kong’s contribution to economic reform and how it might continue to contribute to the country,” Lau said.

He added, however, that by mentioning self-awareness to protect national security, Xi could have been signalling to the Hong Kong government to push forward with enacting national security laws, he added.

Pro-Beijing politician Tam Yiu-chung, who was among the 160 delegates, said Xi wants Hongkongers to be more active in contributing to the country.

“We have many talents who can thrive on the international stage, to help the country with global governance,” Tam said.

Tam, the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, said there was only one sentence in Xi’s speech that relates to national security.