Newly sworn-in leader Carrie Lam vows to restore social harmony as Hong Kong marks 20 years of Chinese rule

Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping (right) after being sworn in as the territory's new leader, on July 1, 2017.
Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping (right) after being sworn in as the territory's new leader, on July 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) faces China's President Xi Jinping (right) as she is sworn in as the territory's new leader at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017.
Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) faces China's President Xi Jinping (right) as she is sworn in as the territory's new leader at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping after being sworn in as the territory's new leader, on July 1, 2017.
Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping after being sworn in as the territory's new leader, on July 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Mrs Carrie Lam, the fourth Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the first woman in the position, was sworn into office in the morning of Saturday, July 1, alongside her Cabinet members, witnessed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mrs Lam is taking office at a time when relations between her city and the central government in Beijing are fraught and as the city itself is divided by growing economic inequality and political differences.

Also sworn in were members of the government advisory body the Executive Council, witnessed by Mrs Lam.

In her speech, Mrs Lam said that while Hong Kong's problems could not be resolved overnight, she would strive through a new style of governance to restore social harmony and public trust in the government, and work towards resolving the city's problems by being innovative, interactive and collaborative.

Mr Xi, in his speech, reiterated Beijing's resolve to adhere to the "one country, two systems" principle through which the city is governed by Hong Kongers, has a high degree of autonomy and is allowed to maintain its capitalist system and way of life.

 

He pledged that the central government will make sure it is fully implemented "without being bent or distorted".

However, he stressed that "one country" is the foundation for the practice of "two systems".

Noting that during the negotiation with the British for handover, China had made clear that sovereignty was not negotiable, he added: "Now that Hong Kong has returned to China, it is all the more important for us to firmly uphold China's sovereignty, security and development interests."

He warned: "Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of  the central government and the 
authority of  the Basic Law of the HKSAR or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible."

He added that while it was no surprise that Hong Kong as a plural society had different views and major differences on some issues, politicising them or creating differences and provoking confrontation would not resolve them.

On a conciliatory note, he said the central government was ready to talk with anyone who "loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law, no matter what political views or position he or she may hold".

However, his comment that any attempt to endanger national sovereignty was not permissible has raised concerns that this will put pressure on the Hong Kong government to enact an anti-subversion law, which is opposed by Hong Kongers as they think it will curtail their freedoms. Other Hong Kongers have expressed disappointment that Mr Xi did not mention the resumption of stalled political reform, according to the nowNEWS channel.

The swearing in took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre where the handover ceremony 20 years ago in 1997 was held. Hong Kong returned to China on July 1 that year from British rule.

Earlier this morning out on the streets in the Wan Chai area where the Convention Centre is located, pro-democracy protesters tried to march towards the Golden Bauhinia Square outside the centre where a flag-raising ceremony was presided over by Mrs Lam at 8am.

Pro-Beijing supporters added to the chaos. The pro-democracy protesters were later taken away by police.

Mrs Lam, 60, was elected into office on March 26, winning 777 votes from an election committee of 1,194 that was stacked with Beijing loyalists.

The election for the top post was the first after the massive pro-democracy protests of 2014 that demanded greater political freedoms including the right for Hong Kongers to choose their own candidates for direct election of their Chief Executive.

She comes into office at a time when Hong Kong's society is polarised, with younger generations identifying themselves first as Hong Kongers then as Hong Kong Chinese and last as Chinese, unlike many older Hong Kongers who see themselves as both Chinese and Hong Kongers.

Many Hong Kongers also worry about the erosion of political freedoms and growing economic inequality.

Young people are particularly unhappy over unaffordable housing and lack of job opportunities.

This has led Mr Xi on Friday to urge Hong Kong's elites to focus on young people and help them solve practical problems as well as create good conditions for them to make something of themselves.

Mrs Lam faced problems bringing in new blood into her team and many members of her Cabinet are old faces, including the top three heavyweights, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, Financial Secretary Paul Chan and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.

All but one are incumbents, undersecretaries or veteran civil servants.

The only member from outside the government is Dr Law Chi Kwong, a founding member of the Democratic Party, who will head the labour bureau. 

Analysts blamed her difficulty in bringing new people on interference by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs, saying this put off potential candidates.

Hong Kong is administered under the "one country, two systems" principle under which the city is governed by Hong Kongers and has a high degree of autonomy. But Hong Kongers feel this autonomy is being eroded as Beijing increases its grip on the city.

Mrs Lam is expected to have difficulty uniting a polarised society.

However, former chief secretary Anson Chan said some of Mrs Lam's instincts are in the right place and she can deliver if she is left to her own devices.