23 January 2019
Carrie Lam owes Beijing's Liaison Office a big favor, and she will have to return it someday. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam owes Beijing's Liaison Office a big favor, and she will have to return it someday. Photo: HKEJ

The three ‘big mountains’ facing Carrie Lam

Last year, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, in her capacity as the chief secretary, said during a media interview that there were three “big mountains” lying before the administration.

She identified the three mountains as: 1) the public’s backlash against the hegemony of the Link REIT, 2) the MTR Corporation that has become too big to control, and 3) the simmering controversy over whether the government should revoke the hedging mechanism of the Mandatory Provident Fund scheme.

Now, as Lam is set to take over as the city’s new chief executive, I believe she may find three new big mountains lying before her on the horizon, which are: 1) how to handle the criminal prosecution against Occupy Movement activists skillfully, 2) how to prevent our society from getting divided further, and above all, 3) how to stand up to Beijing’s escalating interference.

As far as the first big mountain is concerned, I feel it is no mere coincidence that the arrests of Occupy Movement organizers and retired police superintendent Franklin Chu, who was accused of beating up innocent civilians during the pro-democracy protests, took place on the same day.

I believe charges were pressed against Chu simultaneously as authorities wanted to divert public attention and minimize the backlash against the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

But such tactics can’t be pulled off in future. Since there are dozens of other public figures who also played an active role in the Occupy Movement, if the police were to continue to go after the rest of them, there will be no other cases that can be used as an offset.

Given that, Carrie Lam will face a predicament after July 1: she either presses ahead with the arrests, which may risk further dismaying the public, or stops hunting down the rest of the activists, which may in turn risk angering her Beijing bosses.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s insistence on picking Lam as the next CE despite her low popularity in comparison to John Tsang has fueled a sense of disillusionment among Tsang supporters, many of whom are moderate or even conservative middle-class voters who don’t relate to the pro-democracy cause or the Occupy Movement.

As Beijing ignored public opinion in Hong Kong with regard to the CE choice, it will only push these people into the arms of the pan-democrats.

As a result, our society will become even more polarized. I believe Lam will have her hands full trying to prevent society from continuing to split in the days ahead, let alone healing the existing wounds.

Lastly, Lam’s election as CE despite her relatively low popularity, particularly among young people, would never have been possible without the aggressive intervention of the Beijing’s Liaison Office, which had been twisting the arm of pro-establishment Election Committee members at full throttle before the election day.

Obviously, Lam owes the Liaison Office a big favor, and she certainly will have to return it someday somehow.

And that begs the question: can we really expect our new CE to resist the escalating political interference from the Beijing officials who very much helped her get the job?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


HKEJ contributor

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe