21 April 2019
Carrie Lam says he is extremely pleased to have Eric Chan on board. Photo: GovHK
Carrie Lam says he is extremely pleased to have Eric Chan on board. Photo: GovHK

Why Carrie Lam chose retired immigration chief to head CE office

Former immigration chief Eric Chan Kwok-ki has been appointed to head the chief executive-elect office, more than a month after Carrie Lam was elected to Hong Kong’s top post.

Some quarters have questioned Lam’s choice, saying it’s a bit unusual that a retired official without much experience in the workings of the government bureaucracy will head an office that is tasked to help his boss in forming her cabinet, ensuring a smooth transfer of power, and dealing with media.

Lam said she’s “extremely pleased” to have Chan, known to colleagues and friends as “KK”, on board, stressing that he meets all of her criteria for the office.

“My criteria in forming the team, or in finding candidates to fill important positions in the team, are really people who are committed to Hong Kong, who have the ability and the compassion to serve the people of Hong Kong. In these respects, KK perfectly fits the bill,” Lam said.

Chan said he “agreed immediately, without hesitation” when the job was offered.

It is understood that Chan will head the office even after Lam assumes the chief executive post on July 1.

Basically, it would be better for an administrative officer to lead the chief executive office, given the critical job of helping her form her team, and Chan did not have much experience in this area.

Since the establishment of the Chief Executive Office in 1997, those who have occupied the post were mostly cadres of the administrative services, including Lam Woon-kwong, John Tsang, Norman Chan, Raymond Tam and Edward Yau. Only Gabriel Leung was not an administrative officer.

Chan’s appointment has given rise to speculation that Lam faced difficulties in convincing administrative officers to join her team. Could that be true?

First, let’s have a look at Chan’s background.

Chan spent most of his civil service career in the immigration department, where he rose to the highest post before his retirement.

During his government service, he completed a bachelor’s degree in Law at Tsinghua University.

Some political observers point out that immigration is one of the key departments that Beijing pay close attention to as it is related to population policies as well as the movement of people across the border.

It is believed that Chan has built an extensive network of relationships with Beijing authorities, especially in the field of immigration.

Also, his background as a Tsinghua graduate should serve him and his boss well in facilitating communications with Beijing officials, not to mention the fact that President Xi Jinping himself is a Tsinghua alumnus.

This has fanned speculation that Chan may not be Lam’s preference to head the office, but that he was “strongly recommended” by some people in the central government to ensure close coordination between Beijing and the SAR government.

In fact, Chan had been stationed in Beijing for three years since 1998 to work for the Hong Kong government’s temporary office in the Chinese capital.

He was in the first batch of SAR officials to coordinate and build ties with senior Beijing officials.

That said, Chan’s Beijing connections should help Lam in building trust and confidence in her leadership among the Communist Party cadres.

His duty could be a crucial one, as Beijing will now have a trusted man in the Hong Kong government, and that will allow the Communist Party cadres to get appropriate information and make decisions on matters pertaining the special administrative region.

From the local perspective, several political commentators believe that Chan’s appointment has downgraded the position from “chief of staff”, who will assist Lam in coordinating with the various government departments on policy planning and implementation, to a “chief external affairs officer”, who wil help her liaise with external parties such as lawmakers, district councilors and non-governmental organizations.

Be that as it may, Chan is said to have established good working relationships with different parties during his term as immigration director.

That could give him a key role to play as Lam tries to rebuild ties with the opposition, especially after outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had destroyed all lines of communication with the pan-democratic camp after the 2014 Occupy Movement.

As Hong Kong’s leader, Lam needs to serve both Beijing leaders and Hong Kong people, and Chan is in a good position to help her build closer ties with the central government.

And if Beijing has closer ties with Hong Kong and is able to better influence Hong Kong affairs, would that be good news for us?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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