Tyrant or terrorist?
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Carrie Lam is well and truly unmasked these days, whether she wears a face covering or not. People in Hong Kong (HK) and elsewhere see her for the treasonous tyrant that she is, for the utter havoc - the terrorism - she has unleashed in HK.
Carrie Lam is the head of government in HK, and its chief executive (CE), but also the ambassador of Beijing - or more correctly the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the 22 years since HK was handed over from British to Chinese rule, no CE has ever completed two terms, and incumbent Carrie Lam looks to be no different.
After protests held in HK on June 12, 2019 the city’s CE described her administration as a mother and the people of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) as a prodigal son. The statement infuriated about 30,000 mothers in the city, who signed a petition voicing their frustrations, and later went on to rally in solidarity with the youngsters who were risking themselves and their futures by protesting in HK.
Lam has mastered the art of 'rubbing people up the wrong way' and many now refer to her with an expletive.
LAM A POOR CHOICE
Lam may have been groomed for the CE role while serving as a junior technocrat in the HK government, and then as Chief Secretary under the previous CE C Y Leung, but that doesn't necessarily mean she is suitable for the CE role.
According to Leo Goodstadt who was chief policy adviser to the last two HK colonial governors before the handover in 1997, “gross mismanagement” of HK by the city’s first four chief executives resulted in the current problems faced by residents – from the housing shortage to a flawed education system and political uncertainty.
So, political tensions were already high in HK even before the 2017 CE election, and people were looking for strong leadership. I won't go further into a debate about whether Lam had the right background and aptitude for the role of CE, though others (including Leo Goodstadt) have certainly raised the question.
Lam was infected with the CCP virus perhaps even before her nomination as a candidate in the 2017 CE election.
From the get-go in 2017 as a candidate for the CE role her troubles only increased, as did those of HK, when she gained the support of powers on the mainland. I won't try to analyse exactly which faction of the CCP Carrie Lam pledged her allegiance to, or exactly who, but readers should be aware that within the CCP there is another whole level of political skullduggery going on, adding complexity and difficulty in trying to understand the ramifications for HK.
At the time, Lam’s popularity deficit promised to increase the more she leaned on her Beijing backers, and the more liaison office officials leant on HK politicians and members of the Election Committee to support her. Indeed—and this point is not made facetiously—the CCP and its representatives in the city are viewed with such distrust that these leaders might have had greater influence and success throwing their support behind the candidate they wanted to lose rather than the one they favoured. The distrust stems from a range of matters that go much deeper than the aftermath of the SARS epidemic that hit HK hard in 2003.
When Lam took on the CE job, she struggled with a public perception that she was aloof and out of touch. Even when she was seen on the verge of emotional breakdown in a media interview, the public felt the "crocodile tears" were insincere. Now her legacy is doomed to be far worse: the leader who fiddled while Hong Kong burned, the leader who by her own admission brought havoc to HK, the leader who always did too little and too late, the leader who allowed rule BY law to crush HK's much valued rule OF law, the leader who gave up the city to the Chinese Communist Party.
The evidence of Lam's allegiance to the CCP is unequivocal. Her failing is in regards her duty to HK.
Beijing's role in directing how HK handles the protests has been widely assumed by citizens of HK, supported by stern statements in state media about the country's sovereignty and protesters' "radical" goals.
In August 2019, just a matter of weeks into civil unrest in the SAR after the CE had launched her mission to pass an Extradition Bill (formally named the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019), Lam presented a report to a meeting held in Shenzhen about the HK crisis, and led by senior Chinese officials. Lam's report assessed the protesters' five key demands and argued that withdrawing the contentious Extradition Bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory.
However, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter who informed Reuters, the CCP rejected Lam's proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters' other demands at that time.
A few weeks later, in September 2019, Beijing’s top office on HK affairs under the State Council, China’s cabinet, appealed to the city’s legislative and judicial institutions to rally behind the government’s efforts to end the violence and chaos in the SAR. Branches of the HK government, including the judiciary and all sectors of society were urged to take ending the protester violence as the ‘most pressing task’.
“The HK government, including the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, as well as all sectors of society must take ‘bridling turmoil and curbing violence’ as the city’s most pressing task and the overwhelming priority,” Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) spokesman Yang Guang said. “Especially to those key violent criminals and their backstage masterminds, organisers and agitators, [we] must show no mercy and pursue till the end.”
A LEADER WITHOUT A MANDATE
Among Carrie Lam's many critics are Anson Chan, a HK politician and civil servant who served as Chief Secretary in both the HK Government under British sovereignty and the HK Special Administrative Region (SAR) government under Chinese sovereignty. Chan was also an elected member of the Legislative Council of HK for HK Island between 2007 and 2008. She is on record as supporting the aims of the protest movement in HK, and offered her opinion of the CE in September 2019, saying "Since she [Lam] has shown no indication of making some of the very difficult decisions to - as it were - lower the temperature, and find a way through this current impasse, then she should make way for somebody else.... There is no leadership at the moment," said Chan, who retired in 2001. "Effectively, HK at the moment is a rudderless ship and the captain has left the bridge."
While Lam remains in office, and the pandemic probably has given her a reason to stay on for now, it seems highly unlikely that she will be able to seek a second term in 2022. There were many calls for her to resign in the second half of 2019, and there have been conflicting reports about whether she sought permission from the CCP to do so or not.
In September 2019 Reuters reported a discussion Lam had in a 'closed-door' meeting with a group of HK businesspeople. It was in this meeting that the CE made her now famous admission that she had "brought havoc to HK", but she also intimated that if she had a choice she would apologise deeply and quit her leadership role. It is also notable that she said she had “very limited” room to resolve the crisis because the unrest had become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States over the ongoing trade war.
Few people expect Lam to get much done in her remaining term of office, faced with an incredibly hostile public, and Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September 2020 that are likely to offer the pro-Democracy parties significant gains in the legislature. The CE has managed to anger even the pro-establishment lawmakers and traditionally pro-CCP allies outside of LegCo.
By letting things fester, Lam has aggravated the growing tensions between the HK government and civil society, and prevented any resolution. The HK government has no legitimacy while it refuses to follow the will of the people (see UDHR article 21.3). Lam was also only elected in a ‘small circle' election of 1,200 people, winning 777 votes, so only 0.1% of HKers actually voted for her to become their CE.
Time and time again Carrie Lam has displayed a rigid and uncompromising attitude, failing to even take initial steps to resolve the civil unrest. She refuses to make any concessions with protesters and consistently takes a contrary view: Lam dismisses calls for public consultation, Lam ignores and rejects the protesters' five demands, Lam rejects allegations of police brutality, Lam repeatedly rejects calls for an independent inquiry into Police, Lam claims that protests are proof of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in HK, Lam rejects call to cut mainland immigration numbers, Lam rejects bipartisan calls to turn down legislators pay rise, Lam rejects calls to close HK border despite virus fears.
If Lam and her government were doing their job, they would find creative and constructive ways to end the protests by removing at least some of the irritants that keep them going.
On the matter of 'irritants' we should look here at an incident that occurred in Tsim Sha Tsui on 20 October 2019. During protests that Sunday afternoon a Police water cannon truck stopped and then deliberately sprayed blue coloured dye on Press Journalists, Muslims and others peacefully assembled outside the Kowloon Mosque. The liquid sprayed by the water cannon that is used to identify protesters, was reported to be water containing a blue dye and a painful pepper solution. From the videos it is clear to see that no warning was given before the water cannon was deployed. The water cannon fired in two separate bursts and there where NO protesters near the Mosque at that time.
In the aftermath, the following day Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo and an inappropriately dressed Chief Executive Carrie Lam visited the Kowloon Mosque. There Lam spoke only to Mr. Mohan Chugani in offering an apology to the Mosque saying that it was an "accident". This was the first time since mass protests began that CE Carrie Lam had made an apology to anyone related to any actions of the HK Government or the Police.
The ex-head of the Indian Association Mohan Chugani was one of the people who had been standing at the Mosque gate and he was sprayed by the water cannon. Chugani initially refused to accept Carrie Lam's apology saying this was not an "accident" as she claimed - Chugani said it was deliberate because the water cannon truck stopped and then sprayed the blue dyed water. Previously Chugani has been a supporter of Carrie Lam and the Police.
In the HK District Council elections at the end of November 2019, pro-democracy candidates who all supported the protesters' well-publicised 'Five Demands' were swept to victory. The pro-democracy camp achieved its biggest landslide victory in the history of HK, seizing control of 17 of the 18 District Councils and tripling their seats from around 124 to about 388. Government opponents quickly called on Lam to accede to the protesters' five-point list of demands, including direct elections for the city’s CE and its legislature, and a probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.
“The government must squarely face public opinion,” said Wu Chi-wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party, HK’s largest anti-establishment party.
However, no concessions were forthcoming from Lam. Further, rather than congratulate or welcome the newly elected District Councillors, Lam could only offer her government's promise to "listen humbly to citizens’ opinions and reflect on them seriously."
Public consultations have never been a strong point in the governance of HK. Lam's attempts at public consultation were also a fiasco for her after the "platform for dialogue" she set up turned against her. It had been the CE's plan to establish a community discussion, to show a willingness to listen and engage with the people. She announced it soon after the fourth massive street march on August 18, 2019. Rather optimistically she said the time had come for the community to discuss its difficulties. Speaking at a press conference two days later, she continued to reject all five protester demands.
Lam, faced a hostile reception at the first of her planned series of public consultations held at the end of September 2019 in an effort to defuse the city’s worst political crisis in decades. She was grilled by 150 guests, selected by lottery out of 20,000 applicants for the event at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in central HK. She came under a barrage of criticism, with citizens accusing her government of turning a deaf ear to months of protests calling for democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous territory.
"Hong Kong is like (it has been) diagnosed with cancer because of the chief executive," said one woman dressed in a black cardigan who spoke at the two hour consultation session. "You say you want to listen to people's opinion, but many [more than] 1 million people come out to rally, the Lennon walls, strikes, civil disobedience movements. Those are the public opinions."
When Lam says she wants to "listen", what she really means in Orwellian doublespeak is that she intends to ignore everything said.
The CE later admitted to a “disconnect” between HK residents and the government and vowed to rebuild their trust, reported the South China Morning Post. "This is not just a PR show but aimed to bring change" so HK can be a better territory, Lam said. She described the session, the first in a series of planned dialogues toward reconciliation, a "good first step."
Lam also chose to host some "public consultations" with different interest groups out of the public eye. Some of those who had taken part in the public dialogue sessions, launched with much fanfare, suggested they were little more than a talking shop with government decisions in the wake of the first talks only making the crisis worse.
Case in point: anti-government demonstrations became more violent after the first public dialogue session. Lam and her government invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) in early October 2019 to implement an anti-mask law aimed at curbing protests. The law banned protesters from covering their faces during protests. The new mask ban sparked wildcat protests in the business districts and malls closed early as a result.
Though protesters were not going to be intimidated by the ERO face mask ban, it did mean that Lam chose to suspend any further public 'consultation' sessions. So, in Lam’s characteristic way she moved from one crisis to another of her own making.
A public opinion poll carried out in late February 2020 found a new low in approval for CE Lam, of just 9.1 percent, signalling disapproval for her government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the SAR. Quite simply the majority of HK people have learnt to distrust the CE and her government as much as they distrust the CCP who has breached the Joint Declaration that was meant to set the groundwork for the future of the city.
Also in February 2020, Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily reported that Lam had submitted a report to Beijing in which she criticised pro-establishment allies while expressing hope that the epidemic could provide an opportunity to turn the political atmosphere around before September’s LegCo elections. Although she refused to offer further comment, Lam did not deny the media report that she sent a letter to Beijing complaining about her “unsatisfactory” cabinet and saying the coronavirus outbreak could be spun to the government’s advantage.
Many would say that opportunity to win support for the government has been squandered. Lam simply does not act in the interests of ordinary HKers.
The people of HK are not easily hoodwinked when it comes to 'propaganda', media hype, gaslighting and government spin. How could the CE publicly thank frontline medical workers for their part in combatting the coronavirus outbreak, when in previous weeks and months she has been complicit in their arrest and brutalisation by the Police, and ignored strike action by hospital workers aimed at pressuring the government to close the HK borders? Earlier in 2020, hundreds of medical workers went on strike in protest against the government’s refusal to close all borders with mainland China to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which at the time was mainly prevalent in Hubei province. The CE has shown utter hypocrisy.
We also note that after initially refusing to block legislator pay rises, the CE finally caved in to pressure and announced a U-turn on 8 April 2020 - that she and other principal officials, will take a 10 per cent pay cut in the coming 12 months. The move came a day after Lam came under fire for receiving an annual pay raise of HK$120,000 as listed in the budget for year 2020-21. HKers will gladly take their tax money back, but this can only amount to yet another bungled publicity stunt.
There is a beautiful irony in the civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic concerning face masks. Face masks were once part of the signature outfits worn by black-clad protesters. In response to requests from Police who claimed the masks were a “public danger”, Lam unilaterally invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) to implement an anti-mask law (October, 2019). Anyone who wore a face mask at lawful rallies and marches, unlawful or unauthorised assemblies, or at riots could be sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000. This attempt to curb anti-government protests backfired. Although the Lam law was aimed at preventing protesters covering their faces in full or partially to conceal their identity, more protesters took to the streets in defiance of the ban, not less.
Then there was a legal challenge to the face mask ban filed by two dozen opposition lawmakers in November, and the face mask ban was ruled unconstitutional. More determined than ever, the CE mounted an appeal against the court ruling, the decision of which was announced on 9 April 2020. However, the matter is not completely resolved as the Pan-democrats have indicated they will take this matter to the Court of Final Appeal.
Now Lam and her government are in an awkward position since face masks are ubiquitous, worn by virtually all HK people when they are outside their homes as protective gear against infection. Whereas she once sought to outlaw the wearing of face masks, now she wears one at her press conferences. Back in February 2020 Lam had to apologise after giving out mixed messages about the wearing of face masks, as she had implied that civil servants ought not to wear them to conserve their supply.
On 6 April 2020, the views of HK University microbiologist Ho Pak-leung regarding the spread of coronavirus infection in the city were reported in the media. He said that the government should consider making it mandatory for people to wear face masks in public. Speaking on an RTHK radio programme, Ho said scientific evidence shows that wearing face masks is effective in blocking droplets and viruses to some extent.
The reality is that Carrie Lam is well and truly unmasked these days, whether she wears a face covering or not. People in HK and elsewhere see her for the treasonous tyrant that she is, for the utter havoc - the terrorism - she has unleashed in HK. The SAR has become a Police State.
Carrie Lam is being paid far too much (second highest in the world at HK$500,000 per month) for a job she does not even do half-well, so let's end her tyranny. HK needs more accountability in all areas of government and Lam, with her allegiance to the CCP, is the core impediment to achieving the protesters’ five demands. Rather than emphasising HK’s own system of governance in her dealings with the CCP, Lam has acquiesced, allowing further breaches of the Joint Declaration to go unchecked.
In many places referendums are used to determine the will of the HK people, so again we call for the will of HK people to be measured, noted and acted upon.
See also: SCMP columnist, Michael Chugani, asks "If Carrie Lam is governing Hong Kong and Luo Huining is supervising, who's really in charge?"