Chinese President Xi Jinping praises ‘courageous’ Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
- National leader says local government has been ‘firmly safeguarding one country, two systems and the Basic Law’
President Xi Jinping has heaped praise on Hong Kong’s leader, singling out her courage in fulfilling her responsibilities and willingness to tackle difficult issues.
At a meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in Beijing, Xi lauded her for firmly safeguarding China’s “one country, two systems” governing principle for Hong Kong, as well as planning for the future and making efforts to solve livelihood issues faced by residents in the city, especially the young.
“In the past year, you have been leading the Hong Kong government in being courageous in taking up its responsibilities, getting things done proactively, and firmly safeguarding one country, two systems and the Basic Law,” Xi said, in a reference to the city’s mini-constitution.
“[You] planned for Hong Kong’s long-term development seriously, and participated in the ‘Greater Bay Area’ project and the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.”
The bay area plan aims at integrating Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong province cities into a financial and innovation powerhouse rivalling Silicon Valley in the US, while the belt and road strategy is Xi’s ambitious international trade and infrastructure investment vision.
“This shows that you are not setting easy goals and avoiding difficult tasks,” Xi told Lam.
“You achieved good results. The central government fully recognises the work by you and the Hong Kong government.”
While Xi did not specify what the “hard issues” were, pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong have praised the local government for banning opposition lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick from a rural committee election. The returning officer questioned Chu’s willingness to uphold the Basic Law, and his stance on separatism.
In October, British journalist Victor Mallet was denied a work visa and had to leave Hong Kong. That was widely linked to his moderating a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in August by pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin, convenor of the now-banned Hong Kong National Party.
The president also recalled his meeting with Lam in Beijing last month, when the chief executive led a 200-strong delegation of Hong Kong business leaders and politicians to the capital to celebrate the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up.
“Looking forward, we will insist that the one country, two systems principle must not be swayed, and support Hong Kong and Macau in integrating into national development, nurturing new strengths, playing new roles, realising new development and making new contributions,” Xi concluded.
In an earlier meeting on Monday, Premier Li Keqiang also praised Lam for her leadership, highlighting her promotion of innovation and efforts to tackle livelihood issues.
“Under intricate international circumstances, Hong Kong maintained stable economic growth as a free-trade port and a separate customs territory,” Li said. “This didn’t come easy. The Hong Kong government is highly recognised by the central government, we give it full recognition.”
In a media briefing later, Lam refused to say whether the state leaders had given her any instructions concerning Hong Kong’s role in the US-China trade war, and in safeguarding national security.
“In the part open to the media, the premier mentioned that he hoped we could make use of Hong Kong’s international position to maintain our status as a free economy,” she said. “I’ve told the premier that we will be prepared to maintain our financial stability, and help small and medium enterprises to face the downward risks.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan suggested Xi was trying to steel the chief executive to tackle difficult tasks ahead when he praised her courageousness.
“Beijing is concerned about Hong Kong’s livelihood and political issues. Lam was courageous as she continued to push forward her land reclamation plan [around Lantau Island] as a step to solve the city’s housing problem,” Chan said.
“Lam also did not shirk her responsibility as the government banned the Hong Kong National Party. Xi did not publicly urge her to enact national security legislation, but the message was clear already.”
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s government must enact local laws against offences such as treason and subversion. The government’s last attempt to do this, in 2003, was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest, fearing their freedoms would be compromised.
Several Beijing officials – including Vice-Premier Han Zheng; Yang Jiechi, the top foreign policy adviser to the president; Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief Zhang Xiaoming; and Hong Kong liaison office chief Wang Zhimin – also attended the meeting with Xi on Monday.