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Monday, January 24, 2022

Can the “very confident” Carrie Lam save her Hong Kong heritage?

HONG KONG – The students sat quietly as the soldiers walked into the auditorium of Hong Kong High School, hoisting the Chinese flag. The MCs spoke in the Mandarin dialect of mainland China, rather than the Cantonese dialect prevalent in the city. Then Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, took to the podium to extol the importance of patriotism to urban youth.

It was Mrs. Lam’s fourth visit to school in recent weeks — an astounding score for a leader who had barely set foot on campus in two years. When anti-government protests swept the city in 2019, young people were among the most loyal participants, and high school students boycotted classes and formed human chains.

But now that the situation at Puyi Kiu School has cleared up this month, things have changed: the pro-China side – and, by extension, Mrs. Lam – is back in power. While the Hong Kong cliché has long held that a CEO serves two masters, Beijing and Hong Kong residents, the 2019 protests and the crisis that followed showed that only one really matters.

With this clarity, 64-year-old Ms. Lam has lately appeared to be a resurgent woman, not at all like the leader who, in the midst of protests, disappeared from view for several days in a row.

She outlined an ambitious vision for a “complete solution” to Hong Kong’s housing problem by building over 900,000 housing units in the city’s largely undeveloped northern outskirts. She visited Wuhan this month to strengthen Hong Kong’s economic and cultural ties with the mainland. She gave lengthy interviews to the media, smiling while dismaying fears that the city would be grieved by Beijing.

“I am very confident in Hong Kong,” she said at the awards ceremony last month. “I hope I was 30 years younger so I could start contributing to Hong Kong and benefit from Hong Kong being so much better over a longer period of time.”

Ms. Lam dodged questions about whether she would run for a second term in March, and her office declined to submit her for an interview. But observers say her behavior indicates the woman is trying for another five years in power.

The draw is obvious. If she leaves office now, she will be remembered as the most unpopular executive director in Hong Kong history, whose clumsy response to popular uprising led to Beijing’s abrupt abandonment of the city’s civil liberties, which dealt a blow to Hong Kong’s global status and exodus of residents. Few, even in the pro-Pekin camp, want to protect her.

But if Beijing gives her another term, she could try to rehabilitate her legacy by solving Hong Kong’s housing shortage, a problem that has perplexed all leaders before her, and accelerating integration with the mainland, which some believe could heighten the city’s economy. None of the previous CEOs have served for two terms, which is certainly a tempting challenge for Mrs Lam, an outspoken perfectionist.

Even Ms. Lam’s critics admit that she is an extremely competent administrator who is quite capable of pushing through the housing and employment policies she has laid out. Perhaps more importantly, the political cleansing in Beijing wiped out almost all opposition. Hong Kong will host the first legislative elections Sunday since Beijing changed the system this spring to only allow government-approved candidates to run.

Even more questionable is Ms. Lam’s ability to convince Hong Kongers that the vision of Beijing is indeed better, and for whom. While Beijing argues that economic advances will heal Hong Kong’s social divisions and that closer ties with the mainland will foster natural patriotism, democracy advocates insist that nothing will improve without restoring political rights.

Perhaps this is why, for all her rhetoric about the future, Ms. Lam also focused on changing the past – specifically what Beijing had in mind when it promised Hong Kong, a former British colony, semi-autonomy.

Mrs. Lam once advocated direct election of an executive director. (Currently, Hong Kong’s chief executive is elected by a 1,500-member committee in a Beijing-controlled vote.) Last month, she said it was “wrong” to think Beijing “owes” Hong Kongers universal suffrage, even if it does. as the purpose of the mini-constitution of Hong Kong.

Ms. Lam’s transformation was “a great irony,” said Jasper Tsang, founder of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party. “After the protests in 2019, her job is now to try to destroy what we all believed in before, including herself.”

For most of her career, Ms. Lam has touted herself as a more moderate figure, committed to Beijing, but open to compromise.

She rose to the top job in 2017, replacing Leung Chun-ying, a Beijing loyalist whose tough stance against democratic protests in 2014 made him extremely unpopular. Instead, Mrs. Lam presented herself as an efficient workhorse — an administrator rather than a politician. She talked about being the senior prefect at her Catholic high school for girls, where she cried on the rare occasions when she did not rank first in her class. Her official bio lists all 20 government positions she held before becoming CEO.

She also built on her reputation as a negotiator who negotiated government negotiations with student leaders during the 2014 protests. She seemed content with Hong Kong’s traditionally close relationship with the West, once talking about her desire to retire with her husband and two sons in the UK.

One of her first actions as head of the executive branch was to appoint former opposition leaders to her cabinet. In March 2018, she took part in a Democratic fundraiser and donated nearly $ 4,000 – the first time an executive director has publicly donated to an opposition party.

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“In the beginning, she really tried to be a unifying figure,” said Dennis Kwok, a former pro-democracy MP. “All parties really did their best to heal the split in society.”

Ms. Lam never expected her proposal to authorize extradition to mainland China to generate strong reactions in 2019. The public demonstrations that began in response to the bill escalated into months of condemnation of Beijing as a whole.

If Mrs. Lam, at the beginning of her tenure, seemed to be trying to avoid being unable to serve two masters, it proved overwhelming. In June 2020, the central government, losing patience with the Hong Kong government’s response, bypassed Ms Lam’s administration and enacted a massive security law.

In the months that followed, dozens of opposition leaders were arrested, the pro-democracy newspaper was forced to close, and the US government imposed sanctions on Ms. Lam.

Yet Beijing’s intervention will prove to be her lifeline. There was no longer the question of whether the CEO was responding to Beijing or Hong Kong residents. Now Mrs. Lam just had to play along.

“There is a lot of irony in life,” she said in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post about the protests. “You thought it was the end of the world, but suddenly it’s not. This was the beginning of a bright future. “

Ms. Lam’s rhetoric now mirrors the rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party, with its mixture of harsh accusations and bureaucratic jargon. At press conferences, she sniffs Western “so-called democracy.” In her annual political address this year, she highlighted the power of the Communist Party over Hong Kong affairs, as opposed to earlier addresses in which she did not mention the party.

Charles Ho, a pro-Beijing tycoon who criticized Ms. Lam’s actions during the protests, said she would be fired or demoted if she were an official on the mainland. But after the security law was passed, Ms. Lam worked hard to regain Beijing’s goodwill, he said.

“When she makes speeches, she thanks the central government or mentions Xi,” Mr. Ho said, referring to Xi Jinping, the leader of China. “She learned to be liked.”

Future debates about Ms. Lam’s legacy will in part touch on how much choice she had in her destiny. Was she a volunteer servant in the party’s quest to crush the freedoms of Hong Kong? Or was she doing everything she could in the face of Beijing’s authoritarianism?

Anyway, Mrs. Lam seems to like the new state of affairs. In July, for example, backing away from a campaign promise to extend anti-bribery rules to the chief executive officer, she explained that the leader is accountable to Beijing.

“She is, as it were, above the executive, legislative and judicial branches,” she said.

Ms. Lam was relieved of her full embrace of Beijing, said Allan Zeman, real estate developer and advisor to Ms. Lam. “You cannot please everyone,” he said. “She has priorities now.”

Nowhere was her confidence clearer than in her proposal to build a “Northern Metropolis” on the border with the Chinese city of Shenzhen, replacing what is now a patchwork of cities and industrial areas with a high-tech hub that will be home to 2. 5 million people. … According to Ms Lam, the project will alleviate the housing crisis and connect the city with the mainland into one whole.

Such proposals have been delayed for years due to opposition from villagers and environmentalists. But Ms. Lam said it was no longer a problem because the security law had restored “public order.”

Serving it might work. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing newspapers, often regarded as the mouthpiece of the central government, have published editorials praising Ms. Lam’s recent speeches. Willie Lam, a Hong Kong political scientist, said no other candidates for the presidency came forward, possibly indicating Beijing’s approval.

“There are many people willing to back down to please Beijing,” he said. But Ms. Lam “has a credible track record in using the civil service to achieve specific goals set by Beijing.”

Indeed, it seems that Mrs. Lam is increasingly being forced to anticipate or strive to keep up with the demands of the central government.

In the fall, officials from the Central Liaison Office, Beijing’s Hong Kong branch, dispersed throughout the city to visit thousands of low-income residents in a much-publicized demonstration of empathy for their living conditions. Ms. Lam looked taken by surprise as she admitted to reporters that she “did not realize” the scale of their work until she read about it in the newspaper.

A week after these visits, Mrs. Lam herself visited several low-income families.

Mrs. Lam, for all her new courage, seems to realize how precarious her apparent political resurgence is. Her recent public appearances have been strictly scheduled. In August, it held its first town hall in two years – 90 of the 106 participants were elected by the government.

Ms. Lam’s visit to Pui Kiu this month was monitored in a similar manner. The school is known for its pro-Beijing orientation. After Ms. Lam spoke up, she handed the plaques to the donors, smiling at everyone for a few seconds. She presided over the opening of the school’s fitness room, posing for photos behind a line of exercise bikes.

She did not speak to any of the students. Then she went to a car nearby and disappeared inside.

Austin Ramsay and Joy Dong made reporting.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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