Is Carrie Lam capable of rekindling hope in Hong Kong?

October 25, 2018 09:02
Chief Executive Carrie Lam made “Striving Ahead Rekindling Hope” the theme of her policy address earlier this month. Is she capable of reaching that goal? Photo: CNSA

"It's morning again in America." The late US president Ronald Reagan used this 1984 TV campaign commercial to great effect during his re-election campaign. It so resonated with voters that even to this day it's rated one of the best political campaign ads ever. Several Republican Party candidates used variations of the slogan during the 2016 election, which Donald Trump won.

"Yes we can." Former president Barack Obama used this political slogan to great effect during his 2008 election campaign. It, too, is regarded as one of the best political slogans.

"Make America Great Again." That was Trump's 2016 campaign slogan. It's not in the same league as the ones Reagan and Obama used, although it has resonated greatly with Trump loyalists.

"Rekindling hope." That slogan is on the cover of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's 2018 policy speech. It's not very original since the American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had been using the slogan "Keep hope alive" since the 1980s.

Reagan's "It's morning again in America" re-election campaign ad was intended to remind voters that during his first term as president, the country had bounced back from its dark days that included the Iran hostage crisis when 52 Americans were held hostage by Iran for 444 days during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Obama's "Yes we can" slogan was intended to show Americans that the country can recover, regain its international image, and move forward after eight years of President George W. Bush, during which the country plunged into recession and began two Middle East conflicts as part of Bush's "war on terrorism".

What is Lam's "Rekindling hope" slogan intended for? Does she mean Hong Kong has lost hope, which she can rekindle under her leadership? I asked her this question on my TVB show several weeks ago. She told me many people feel Hong Kong has lost the positive energy and outlook it once had.

When I asked her why, she replied it was due to a combination of reasons rather than just one single reason. She pointed to the political arguments and divisiveness in our society, which have prevented Hong Kong from moving forward, allowing competitors such as Shenzhen to catch up and surpass Hong Kong.

Lam admitted the government is partly to blame for not leading well but said the biggest reason for lost hope was the housing crisis caused by unaffordable homes and the long queue for public housing.

She conceded it was unlikely she could find enough land and build enough flats to make homes affordable during the remaining three years and nine months of her first term as chief executive. Of course, she wouldn't say if she would run for a second term.

But are these the only reasons so many Hong Kong people have lost hope or are there other root causes? Will affordable housing alone rekindle hope or do people want more than just solutions to livelihood issues?

Whenever I put these questions to opposition legislators, most give me similar replies. It's not just livelihood issues or losing to Shenzhen that produced a generation of disillusioned young people. Of course, housing and other livelihood issues are a great part of the problem. But there are deeper root causes which have to do with the direction Hong Kong is taking 21 years after reunification.

Many Hong Kong people, especially young people, do not see a future that matches their ideals, especially their political ideals. When I ask opposition politicians why so few people take part in protests nowadays, they reply despondently that people have just given up after the failed 2014 Occupy Movement.

That's why we didn't see large protests when six opposition legislators were disqualified for mocking their oath-taking, when Demosistō's Agnes Chow Ting and the Labour Party's Lau Siu-lai were barred from being Legislative Council candidates, and when the government canceled the visa of Victor Mallet, who hosted a Foreign Correspondents' Club lunch talk by independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin.

The only large-scale protest recently was against the government's proposal to build a huge artificial island off Lantau to produce land for future housing. But even that protest drew around 6,000 people according to police figures, which was small compared to the huge protests Hong Kong is used to.

Beijing supporters are likely thrilled that the opposition has become a spent force, especially in Legco where its voting power has been drastically curbed by the disqualification of many of its members and the government's barring of candidates it considers undesirable.

But how healthy is a free society without a strong opposition voice to act as a check and balance? Most people agree Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong, especially after the emergence of the independence movement. I have said many times that this movement was dead on arrival but it still spooks Beijing.

It became clearer last week why mainland leaders have zero tolerance for Hong Kong's independence movement even though it has scant public support. When a delegation of Hong Kong's media bosses visited Beijing last week, mainland leaders urged them to guard against external forces using Hong Kong to threaten China's security. I have said before that the fear of external forces using Hong Kong to undermine the country was the main reason why Beijing is using an iron fist against the independence movement.

But will hope return to Hong Kong after the independence movement is snuffed out? Of course not. How can young people believe there is a future for them and their ideals when, for example, even Hong Kong officials were clueless about Beijing's arrangements for the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge?

Hong Kong people, especially young people, no longer see their destinies in their own hands as Beijing becomes more hands-on in running the city. Aside from improved housing and other livelihood issues, these people need to be assured they have a say in their future under the One Country, Two Systems.

They have become less assured of this. That is a root reason why hope has died. If Lam wants to rekindle hope, she needs to look beyond just livelihood issues.

– Contact us at [email protected]


A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.