No room for HK independence: Lam

Hong Kong's incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam said yesterday that she has told Chinese leaders that Hong Kongers value their freedom and are keen to pursue greater democracy, but she also made it clear that there is no room for any move towards independence.

Mrs Lam was in Beijing to receive her official appointment letter from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as Hong Kong's fourth chief executive after she was elected last month.

At Zhongnanhai, Beijing's leadership compound, Mr Li told the 59-year-old former chief secretary to focus on the economy and unite the new government and all sectors of society.

Her appointment comes amid increasing tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing due to a fledgling pro-independence movement in the semi-autonomous city.

"On the issue of Hong Kong independence, just like what the Premier has said, there's no way out and no room in Hong Kong," she said at a press conference yesterday when asked if her new government would adopt a harsher stance on the pro-independence forces.

"It's very clear that (the pro-independence movement) is completely detrimental to the people of Hong Kong," she added.

In the election last month, Mrs Lam, despite being unpopular among Hong Kongers, garnered 777 votes from a committee of nearly 1,200 members of mostly pro-establishment, pro-Beijing Hong Kong elites.

At the press conference where she took questions in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, Mrs Lam reiterated several times that she had told top leaders in Beijing that Hong Kongers treasure their current way of life and the freedoms that they enjoy.

She said she told them that Hong Kongers were concerned about Beijing's decision on Aug 31, 2014 to insist on its right to vet candidates for the chief executive election in political reforms that provided for universal suffrage. That decision sparked a 79-day pro-democracy protest, which eventually led to the birth of a small but vocal group of pro-independence forces that have since divided Hong Kong society.

Mrs Lam told reporters that her immediate next step is to form her governing team and ensure a smooth transition of power on July 1. "I welcome talent from different political affiliations to join the team as long as they share my philosophy and governance style," she said.

She added that this included like- minded people from the pro-independence camp, which has vowed to oust any member who joins her government.

Mrs Lam yesterday urged all political parties to be "broad-minded" enough to accommodate the wishes of their members if they want to serve the people of Hong Kong by taking up a position in her team.

Unifying the various segments of society and healing political divides would be one of her urgent tasks for the next few months, she said.

Beyond that, her focus would be on education, housing and, most importantly, the economy.

"In the next five years, especially in terms of economic development, we need support from the central government in many areas," she said.

Mrs Lam also met Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday, who said her election victory was well deserved and that she had met all the central government's criteria for the role of chief executive.

During her four-day visit, which ends today, Mrs Lam also met China's top legislator Zhang Dejiang and other senior officials, as well as the Hong Kong community in Beijing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'No room for HK independence: Lam'. Print Edition | Subscribe