Lam's side-by-side walk with Xi at bridge event sparks buzz

October 24, 2018 16:06
President Xi Jinping, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui, together with other officials, enter the venue for the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge in Zhuhai on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

After authorities formally opened the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), the world's longest sea crossing bridge, on Tuesday, a scene captured by cameras at the launch event, involving Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Chinese President Xi Jinping, has become a topic of animated discussions in Hong Kong. 

Wearing a pink qipao, Lam was seen walking side-by-side with Xi into the venue at the passenger clearance building of the Zhuhai Port, followed by several top Beijing officials who were more senior than her in official ranking.

Under normal practice, Lam is required to walk a few steps behind Xi and the other senior-ranking Chinese leaders, but there was a break in protocol on Tuesday with the Hong Kong chief executive seemed to be receiving a special honor.

Among the more senior mainland officials that entered the venue after Lam was Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who is in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

The break from protocol in relation to the leaders' entry, a matter on which the Chinese are normally very rigid about adhering to laid-down guidelines, sparked off speculation that it may have been intentionally arranged by Beijing with the aim to tell the public that Lam has the central government's full support.

Lam, who flew to Beijing after attending the event, however played down the matter, saying people should not read too much into her walking side-by-side with Xi and ahead of other Beijing leaders.

Speaking to reporters at the Hong Kong airport before setting off for Beijing Tuesday evening, Lam dismissed the idea that Xi was trying to send a message to the public that he was standing in support of Lam, or endorsing her Lantau land reclamation plan, through a symbolic break from protocol.

Pointing out that she was the only woman among the leading officiating guests at the ceremony, Lam suggested that she was allowed to enter the venue with Xi merely out of chivalry on the part of the Beijing leaders.

In response to media’s inquiry about the matter, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said Lam’s position showed how Beijing has always laid a heavy emphasis on Hong Kong.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, former Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), said it shouldn't be a surprise that Lam, as the only female among the top attending leaders, was allowed to walk before other high-ranking officials.

Fan added that she hopes, as a Hongkonger, that Xi really thinks well of the city's leader.

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu, referring to Lam's entry into the venue ahead of Macau's leader Fernando Chui, told people not to interpret the arrangement as a sign that the central government particularly supports Hong Kong or Lam, although he said Beijing is according Hong Kong a higher economic status than Macau in the Greater Bay Area.

However, Beijing believes that Macau has done a better job than Hong Kong when it comes to implementation of the "one country" principle, and the central government would not especially lower Macau's status, he said.

After the opening ceremony, Xi rode in a vehicle to tour and inspect the bridge, which officially opened to traffic at 9 am on Wednesday.

Praising builders of the bridge for breaking a number of world records, Xi said they demonstrate the nation's spirit of striving to overcome any difficulties, as well as the national strength, innovative ability, and the aspiration to be the world's best, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

During her speech, Lam said the HZMB will make Lantau a "Double Gateway" to the world and the major Chinese cities in the Greater Bay Area, as the Hong Kong Port is adjacent to the HKIA.

The government will seize the opportunities, Lam said, adding that the "Lantau Tomorrow Vision" that she outlined in her policy address earlier this month will help build a better future for Hong Kong.

In her policy speech on Oct. 10, Lam announced a plan to build artificial islands in the seas surrounding Lantau to help create as much as 1,700 hectares of land for housing. 

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Xi Jinping (second from right), Fernando Chui (third from right), Carrie Lam and other guests tour and inspect the mega bridge. Photo: Macau Govt