Hong Kong will appoint a new chief executive in May after Carrie Lam announced she will not run for a second term.
Lam revealed her decision to the public during a regularly-scheduled Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) press briefing on April 3, where her stated motivations for stepping down were characterized as “family considerations.”
Lam also said her departure had received the blessings of the Central People’s Government in Beijing.
The pressures of power
In one April 4 article, South China Morning Post reported that Lam said her family had been “somewhat affected” since she entered the Hong Kong government in 2007.
Lam, who was chosen by the city’s pseudo-democratic Election Council in 2017, is most notorious for bearing the burden of being the tip of the vanguard for the Legislative Council’s attempts to push through the much-decried “extradition bill” in 2019.
The colloquially-named extradition bill, if installed, would have resulted in Hong Kong installing overt Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule, with residents facing extradition to the mainland to face the full force of the CCP’s infamous disciplinary systems.
After millions of citizens hit the streets during the famous “Heaven Will Eliminate the CCP” (天滅中共) movement that organized in response, months of feverish protests and riots resulted in the bill being officially withdrawn in late October.
Notably, Lam was not present during the announcement.
Amid the protests, which garnered international attention, the Trump Administration placed sanctions on 11 officials from Hong Kong and the Mainland, including Carrie Lam.
At the time, Lam wore a stiff upper lip as she boasted to local media that being sanctioned was actually an “honor.”
Lam also postured that she was unphased by the move, which prevented her from simply utilizing a Chinese bank as a workaround.
Because of risks posed to the Mainland’s financial system of being cut off from SWIFT for evading sanctions under the eyes of a hawkish Trump Administration, Lam revealed she was limited to operating in cash, which fortunately, she claimed to possess an abundance of.
“I’m using cash every day. I have piles of cash at home — the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account,” she flexed during an interview with Hong Kong’s International Business Channel.
In a second interview with Chinese state-broadcaster CGTN, Lam admitted the sanctions caused her “inconvenience” because she could no longer utilize credit cards.
At her feet
A second April 4 SCMP article coined A Legacy Cut Short or a Leader Who Cultivated Her Downfall? cited unnamed “political watchers” and “several pro-establishment veterans” who described Lam’s resignation as both “quite expected” and “making an advance by retreating.”
SCMP, an English-language manifestation of Beijing’s “soft power,” which frequently telegraphs Beijing’s position on key issues, paraphrased their experts as explaining, “The move allowed her to minimise the embarrassment she would have faced if Beijing did not give her a green light for a second term after failing to adequately handle the 2019 social unrest.”
“After all, it was not up to Lam to choose to stay or walk away,” they argued.
Although SCMP referenced the pundits as claiming Lam’s “Achilles’ heel” was her handling of 2022’s explosive and fatal wave of COVID-19 leading to Hong Kong being one of the hardest hit locales in the entire world, they also quietly put the blame for 2019’s civil unrest at her feet.
“For a while, it appeared she was intent on courting the support of younger residents as part of a campaign pledge to heal a divided city,” stated the article.
“But that promise went pear-shaped when Lam insisted in February 2019 on pushing through a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed fugitives to be sent back across the border to mainland China.”
Citing “sources,” SCMP also forecasted that Chief Secretary John Lee would resign on April 6 in order to enter the running for Chief Executive during the May 8 election.
SCMP seemed amicable to the prospect. The outlet paraphrased “analysts” to state that Lee’s appointment as the next Chief Executive “would demonstrate Beijing’s preference for a decisive leader who could tackle deep-rooted problems and minimise national security risks amid simmering Sino-US tensions.”
Lee was promoted by Beijing from Secretary of Security to Chief Secretary, the number two position in Hong Kong, in June of 2021.
At-the-time Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang was promoted to take Lee’s position as Secretary of Security at the same time.
Both appointments were an apparent reward for their handling of the 2019 protests, which, alongside the quashing of the city’s previously-democratic “One Country, Two Systems” doctrine, saw a much tamer National Security Law (NSL) replace the anti-extradition bill.
Tang and Lee were both sanctioned alongside Lam by the Trump Administration in 2019.
Don Tse, Lead Researcher at China analyst firm SinoInsider, told Vision Times that Lee is regarded by Beijing as “a yes-man who is eager to please and has thick skin. He’s obedient, but doesn’t have any obvious factional background.”
Tse explained further that in general, “Hong Kong’s officials mainly take their orders from the PRC Hong Kong Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office.”
Although no second contender has been forecast to run in the May 8 election, which is decided by a 1,462-seat Election Council composed of political assets and business sector appointments, 2017’s election was marred by notable factional struggle reflecting the state of the CCP.
In 2017, Epoch Times reported that the race was primarily between Lam, who was backed by former Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member Zhang Dejiang, described as “Hong Kong’s communist overseer,” and former Finance Secretary John Tsang.
Zhang was identified by Epoch Times in 2017 as a member of the faction belonging to 95-year-old former Chairman Jiang Zemin.
According to “a source close to discussions in the top Chinese leadership,” Epoch Times was told that “relevant authorities” representing current leader Xi Jinping’s faction were said to “admire the work” of Tsang and “are fine too” with third contender Woo Kwok-hing.
When the dust settled, Lam won the election with 777 votes from an Election Council previously composed of 1,194 seats.
Tse said that in his opinion, “Officials like Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam are those groomed by the Jiang faction. They have little popular support, and Xi doesn’t trust them.”
Under Xi’s NSL-backed reforms of Hong Kong’s election system, the Election Council was not only expanded, but modified to include an extensive vetting process for candidates for the Chief Executive position to ensure only certain loyalist “patriots” can contend for power.
“Those with ability don’t want to serve as chief executive,” said Tse. “Hong Kong is turning into a basket case with capital and talent leaving the city, cases of COVID-19 surging, and popular unrest on the rise.”
A battle for control
Tse elaborated on the meaning behind the implementation of the NSL in Hong Kong, “Following the 2019 anti-extradition movement, Xi Jinping implemented the National Security Law in Hong Kong. Though Xi did this to attack the Jiang faction, the NSL caused Hong Kong to undergo ‘communization’ and become similar to a mainland Chinese city.”
He also explained the drawback to the approach, “At a time when the central authorities’ interference in Hong Kong intensifies and the CCP tries to force its ‘common prosperity’ on the city, Hong Kong officials have found their jobs increasingly hard to do.”
As Xi Jinping vies to gain an unprecedented third term as China’s leader later this year, an oft-unheard power struggle between Xi and Jiang continues to characterize China’s internal and geopolitical politics.
For Jiang and his faction, everything revolves around the almost 23-year-long persecution of Falun Gong ordered, and maintained to this day, under Jiang’s personal edict.
While Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has notably sacked multiple Jiang-loyalists, the biggest fish of which were former PSC members Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, the battle recently claimed a new head when state media announced the expulsion of former Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua on March 31.
But most notably for Hong Kong, despite the erosion of the city’s former democracy under the NSL campaign, the persecution of Falun Gong has remained strictly inside the Mainland’s borders, with neither the group’s practice sites nor its Dajiyuan media outlet being targeted by Hong Kong law enforcement.
As SinoInsider stated in a July of 2021 analysis, Xi is notable for having neither participated in the persecution of Falun Gong before coming into power in 2012, nor been responsible for the continuation and exacerbation of the genocide and repression during his tenure as the CCP’s leader.