Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s first policy address was generally well-received. Her 45-minute speech was a refreshing change from that of her predecessor Leung Chun-ying, whose two-hour, humdrum addresses were tainted with political agendas and anger against his opponents.
While Leung harangued the editors of Undergrad, a University of Hong Kong student magazine, for promoting revolt in his 2015 address, and thereby further antagonising the city’s youth, Lam did not mention the controversy surrounding the pro-independence banners on the Chinese University campus. Instead, she strove to address youth concerns.
In fact, Lam stayed silent on the most divisive political issues. She downplayed the disqualification of pan-democratic lawmakers and the recent banning of Benedict Rogers, a British activist, from entering our territory. She dismissed concerns over the enactment of the national anthem law, and did not exploit the recent case of local football fans booing the Chinese national anthem as a reason to push for the unpopular legislation.
Often caricatured as an unsympathetic bureaucrat and seen as Beijing’s appointee to the top job, Lam is clearly trying to appease critics of the small-circle election. Her policy address primarily revolved around economic and social initiatives, including “starter homes” for young families, and a pledge of HK$10 billion for university research funding. Whereas Leung directed his policies towards the Belt and Road Initiative, such as scholarships for students from central Asia, it appears that Lam has listened to local athletes by abandoning plans to redevelop Wan Chai Sports Ground into a new convention and exhibition centre.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how long Lam can stay away from politically contentious issues. The Occupy Central movement, which received support from some academics, was testament to the fact that economic and social security cannot extinguish the cries for democracy. Last year, hundreds of lawyers dressed in black marched through the city’s streets to protest against Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s legal system.
If Beijing continues to intervene in local affairs, it is unclear whether Lam can allay worries by merely concentrating on technical issues while refusing to address our fundamental desire for autonomy and universal suffrage.