China watchers question Beijing’s faith in Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam after trip to capital ends in disappointment

Natalie Wong
·3-min read

Hong Kong’s leader returned from a five-day visit with mainland officials having failed in her bid to have the border reopened, something China watchers said showed Beijing lacked confidence in Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s ability to contain the coronavirus.

They also expressed doubts about the chief executive’s ability to have secured any significant support to include in her policy address later this month.

But in an interview with the nation’s state broadcaster on Saturday, Lam said the trip had been “very fruitful”, as it gave her a chance to report the Hong Kong government’s efforts in fighting Covid-19 to the central authorities.

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“I hope that [our work] boosted the confidence of the National Health Commission and our friends on the mainland, which could make the next stage of border reopening smoother,” she told CCTV.

The chief executive and five of her ministers returned to Hong Kong on Saturday at the end of their visit to Beijing and Guangdong. The purpose of the trip had been to rejuvenate the city’s economy, which has been in recession for five consecutive quarters.

On Saturday, Lam expressed hope to Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee Li Xi, and the Governor of Guangdong Province, Ma Xingrui, that cross-border travel could resume in “a gradual and orderly manner as soon as possible”, according to a spokesperson for the city government.

Before leaving on her trip, Lam said securing the reopening of the border and allowing Hongkongers to visit the mainland without having to spend two weeks in quarantine, was the “most important” issue on her agenda.

However, on leaving Beijing on Friday, Lam admitted she had failed in that mission and said the city “needed to be stricter on curbing the epidemic”. The chief executive was also given a stern reminder by Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng that tackling the coronavirus remained her top priority, and the key to reviving the city’s economy.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it showed that state leaders lacked confidence in Lam’s ability to control the outbreak, but it could also be attributed to a lack of political sense in communicating with Beijing.

“The mainland has its own principles in determining whether to reopen the border,” he said. “Lam’s overconfidence might give an impression that Hong Kong was hijacking Beijing on favourable policies.”

Hong Kong leader visits mainland agencies for securities, development, health

Both Lau, and Willy Lam Wo-lap, adjunct professor of the Centre for China Studies at Chinese University, said they were not optimistic that the trip would result in significant favourable policies Lam could include in her policy address, which is scheduled for November 25.

“Hong Kong has no cards to play after being hit hard by the epidemic. It has to be more dependent on favourable policies in Beijing,” Willy Lam said.

“But China has its own challenges in the post-Covid-19 period. It’s not realistic to expect that Beijing has incentives to launch many significant support measures for Hong Kong.”

Separately on Saturday, a government spokesman said Carrie Lam would travel to Macau on Monday to attend the First Conference of the International Science, Technology and Innovation Forum of Boao Forum for Asia, where she would deliver a speech.

This article China watchers question Beijing’s faith in Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam after trip to capital ends in disappointment first appeared on South China Morning Post

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