Carrie Lam declines invitation from Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to attend annual reception

Alvin Lum
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Carrie Lam declines invitation from Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to attend annual reception

The press club caught at the centre of controversy for hosting a pro-independence activist has extended an invitation to Hong Kong’s leader and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its annual reception, but it looks like ultimately only the Chinese diplomats might show some goodwill.

Florence de Changy, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), confirmed that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s office has declined to attend the club’s Diplomatic Cocktail reception, despite her being the guest of honour last year.

“I have no idea if it’s related to Mallet’s case,” de Changy said, referring to the club’s vice-president and Financial Times Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, whose visa renewal was rejected by Hong Kong authorities after he moderated the talk given by Hong Kong Independence Party founder Andy Chan Ho-tin. “It is perfectly understandable that the Chief Executive cannot attend every year as guest of honour.”

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I have no idea if it’s related to Mallet’s case

Florence de Changy, president, Foreign Correspondents’ Club

A spokesman from the Chief Executive’s Office said Lam was preoccupied on the day on which the event is scheduled. He added the FCC only made a general invitation to Lam, rather than one to attend as speaker or guest of honour as it did last year, and such an invitation would commonly be turned down.

Meanwhile, the club also invited diplomats from the Hong Kong office of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the reception. It was understood that the ministry may send representatives although there has been as yet no official reply. It was unclear if any senior rank officers would be considering attending.

The FCC was strongly criticised by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs after hosting Chan in August, despite the ministry earlier lobbying and warning against the talk. Lam has also called the talk as “regrettable and inappropriate”.

The row surrounding the FCC continued as Mallet’s work visa application was rejected in October. After nearly four hours of questioning by immigration officers earlier this month at Hong Kong International Airport Mallet was denied entry to the city.

While the government repeatedly declined to comment on the specifics of the case, critics have linked it to Mallet’s role in moderating Chan’s talk. Mallet was also the acting president of the club at time.

Mallet was scheduled in town this week to formally resign from the FCC and hand over his duties at the Financial Times.

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The FCC announced on Saturday that New York Times digital editor Jennifer Jett would succeed Mallet as the club’s vice-president.

“We continue to call on the Hong Kong SAR government to provide a reasonable explanation for its refusal to allow Victor entry to Hong Kong and its refusal to renew his work permit,” the club said in the statement.

Speaking separately, de Changy also stressed the club would continue to invite people across the political spectrum.

On a podcast posted on the Financial Times’ website on Friday, Mallet avoided mention of his own case or the Hong Kong National Party. Comparing his most recent spell in the city to his previous assignment from 2003 and 2008, he noted Hongkongers’ growing resentment when he returned in 2016 and spoke of Hong Kong becoming “another Chinese city”.

Mallet cited the earlier disqualification of pro-independence lawmakers from the Legislative Council, and said the case “declared that certain discussions are off the limit”.

“Beijing is narrowing the space for political participation in Hong Kong,” Mallet said on the podcast. “Obviously what’s happening is not as serious as Xinjiang and in the western part of China, but the freedom that Hong Kong people are used to is quite rapidly being eroded, unfortunately.”

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