Hong Kong’s New Boss
More trouble is ahead if Carrie Lam won’t defend local
Carrie Lam waves after she won the election for Hong Kong's Chief Executive in Hong Kong,
March 26, 2017. PHOTO: BOBBY YIP/REUTERS
March 26, 2017 3:48 p.m. ET
There were no surprises Sunday in the selection of Hong Kong’s new Chief
Executive, and that’s how China’s central government wanted it. The winner was
veteran civil servant Carrie Lam, who won a majority of the 1,200 votes cast by an
election committee stacked with local Beijing loyalists. The question now is whether
Ms. Lam will have any desire or ability to arrest Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong’s
autonomy and rule of law.
Her record doesn’t inspire confidence. As the city’s No. 2 official over the past five
years, Ms. Lam ran point on so-called political reform, the process by which Beijing
reneged on promises to deliver free elections for a Chief Executive by this year.
During pro-democracy protests in 2014 she met with student protest leaders but
refused to compromise and took no second meeting. Chinese agents have twice
recently carried out unlawful cross-border abductions in Hong Kong, but she has kept
Ms. Lam sometimes promises vaguely to speak up for Hong Kongers concerned about
Beijing’s interference in local affairs, a point she touched on at her postselection news
conference Sunday, but the public doesn’t buy it. Polls show that in a real election
she’d have lost in a landslide to rival John Tsang, the former financial secretary.
“Lam’s victory despite her lack of representation and popular support reflects the
Chinese Communist Party’s complete control over Hong Kong’s electoral process and
its serious intrusion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the pro-democracy Demosisto Party
said Sunday. The party also promised “a large civil disobedience protest” on Ms.
Lam’s inauguration day, July 1, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer from
British to Chinese control.
An early test will be whether Ms. Lam reintroduces the draconian Article 23
antisubversion legislation first proposed in 2002, which triggered public outcry over
its threat to free speech and turbocharged the local democracy movement. Ms. Lam
has played down interest in such legislation but her campaign manifesto calls it a
“constitutional duty” of Hong Kong’s government, and Beijing has long wanted it.
Hong Kong and China would both benefit if Beijing realized that its assertions of
control are backfiring. Antisubversion legislation, attacks on a free press and judicial
independence, attempts to impose “patriotic education” in schools, broken promises
on democracy, illegal abductions: All have stoked popular resentment and driven
some 40% of young people to sympathize with calls for independence, a position
rarely heard a few years ago.
Chinese President Xi Jinping wants officials to adapt Deng Xiaoping’s “one country,
two systems” promise for Hong Kong so it’s more like “one system.” Ms. Lam will
have to convince Mr. Xi that the mainlandization of Hong Kong is radicalizing
politics in a city still vital to China’s economic and political future, or she will have a
very rocky tenure.
Purchase answer to see full