Beijing not keen on replacing Carrie Lam right away: sources

November 25, 2019 09:23
Chief Executive Carrie Lam is not likely to be replaced before the ongoing unrest subsides, pro-Beijing sources said. Photo: HKEJ

During an official visit to London earlier this month, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was confronted by a group of protesters and was injured as a result. She reportedly suffered a wrist dislocation and bone fracture.

Since it is estimated that it will take at least three months or even up to a year for her to recover, Cheng reportedly has no plan to return to Hong Kong at the moment.

This, in turn, has given rise to rumors that she might step down shortly, citing health reasons.

Such speculation is in line with recent chatter in local political circles that Beijing could be preparing for an overhaul of the leadership in the Hong Kong special administrative region.

Apart from Cheng, it has also been rumored that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is on top of Beijing’s replacement list.

According to an earlier news report published by the Financial Times, Beijing is planning to replace Lam with an "interim" chief executive by March next year in order to serve out the remainder of Lam’s term of office.

However, multiple sources from the pro-Beijing camp, who apparently understand the mindset of the central authorities, all dismissed the FT report as being not too accurate. They insisted that March 2020 was definitely not the deadline for Lam and some other senior government officials to go.

Instead, they all took the view that the FT report, if anything, only represented the wishful thinking of “some business leaders” in the city, who were probably behind the news leak in an apparent attempt to expedite Lam's removal.

As a pro-establishment source has said, it is not that Beijing is not planning to replace Lam, but such a move is definitely not going to happen before the ongoing unrest subsides or within a short period of time afterwards.

That's because Beijing would not want to make it appear that it is “kowtowing” to the protesters if it removes Lam at this point, the source said.

Nevertheless, the source believes there is a chance that Lam may step down before 2022, or before the end of her current term as chief executive.

Another pro-Beijing source noted that in recent months, Beijing has not sent any special envoy to Hong Kong for the purpose of scouting for possible candidates to succeed Lam.

If we look back at recent history, we will note that the departures of previous chief executives followed a set pattern.

Back in 2003, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa failed in the bid to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law. Yet it wasn’t until March 2005 that Tung finally resigned, citing health issues.

Likewise, in 2014, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying saw his popularity hit rock-bottom following the Occupy Movement. Yet it wasn't until December 2016 that he announced his decision not to seek a second term, saying he would like to spare his family from the pressure related to another round of election campaigning.

The pro-Beijing source noted that the Communist Party of China (CPC), as a political party arising from a radical mass movement, is perfectly aware of the importance of listening to the people’s voice.

However, in order not to appear weak in the public eye, the CPC will never yield to public pressure and make concessions amid political upheavals, the source said.

Rather, it will address its mistakes and remedy public grievances after the social unrest has been put down, particularly when it comes to key personnel changes.

As such, it is highly unlikely that Beijing would let go of Lam while the anti-government protests in the city are still in full swing, the source added.

According to sources from the pro-establishment camp, the central government also recognizes that the offices it has set up in Hong Kong, including the Liaison Office, have made a very serious intelligence failure over the entire legislative push for the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.

As such, they are also likely to undergo a massive overhaul once the ongoing unrest has quieted down.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.