The Straits Times says

Balancing act of Hong Kong's new chief

Hong Kong's new Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, starts with a resounding mandate. Sunday's election showed the pro-Beijing former civil servant got the votes of 777 Election Committee members, more than double the combined tally of her two rivals - former financial chief John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing. The numbers suggest that Mrs Lam enjoys greater support from the pro-establishment bloc than her predecessor, Mr Leung Chun Ying, whose winning tally in the 2012 poll was 689 votes. Starting on July 1, Mrs Lam has a five-year term to run the territory where she was the No. 2 official until January.

Mrs Lam knows that while winning the committee vote was key, the popular sentiment in the territory of seven million people overwhelmingly favoured Mr Tsang. This underscores the political divide in the bustling entrepot, where suspicion of Beijing tends to be strong. Since constitutionally the Chief Executive is accountable to China's central government, as well as to the Hong Kong government, no one envies the tightrope she has to walk. It is a balancing act that has become increasingly fraught in recent years with the aspirations of Hongkongers coming in direct conflict with the Beijing authorities, who under President Xi Jinping have become nervous about public displays of disaffection.

The dual accountability means that Mrs Lam's problems, and their solutions, lie both on the mainland and in Hong Kong, where local grievances have fuelled the clamour for political participation. The demands for democracy, which started in 2014, show no signs of abating. The 2015 case of the booksellers who were abducted in the territory only to turn up on the mainland are fresh in people's minds. In January, a prominent tycoon went missing from an apartment at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong and, the following month, the Leung administration sought to disqualify four pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature.

Mrs Lam is right to make building unity a priority. But politics aside, the Chief Executive-elect must show that she understands people's needs and is prepared to do what it takes to resolve pressing issues. The demographic profile, for instance, is tilting and the number of elderly people pushed into poverty is getting to be a worry. The trickle of multinationals which are moving their regional headquarters out of Hong Kong, in the wake of Beijing's tighter grip, might accelerate without careful tending. Once the world's busiest container port, it now ranks fifth. Hedge fund managers worry that some of their trades may get undue regulatory scrutiny if seen as unfriendly to China's interests. Hong Kong once used to be considered a useful staging point for entering the mainland. Today, its fortunes, to a large extent, depend on political and economic currents flowing from China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Balancing act of Hong Kong's new chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe