by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: VOA/Public Domain

HONG KONG CHIEF Executive Carrie Lam has become an increasingly contested presence as demonstrations in Hong Kong continue. A July report by the Financial Times stated that Lam has attempted to quit her position several times but that Beijing has not allowed her to do so, knowing that few other politicians would want to take her place. This is something which Lam has denied, the Financial Times report was later echoed by a Reuters report from earlier this week, which stated that Lam has not been allowed to accept any of the demands pushed for by demonstrators despite advocating this as the best way to resolve the current political impasse. Comments by Lam from a closed-door meeting were later obtained by Reuters, Lam stating that the situation was out of control, and suggesting regret for her actions.  

But, in the meantime, over the past few months, Lam has generally provoked outrage seemingly every time that she holds a press conference. Oftentimes, such press conferences are not made to declare any policy shifts by the Hong Kong government, which remains adamant that demonstrators are “rioters” and otherwise seems to continually hold press conferences in order to condemn them.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo credit: VOA/Public Domain

Such press conference often spark outrage because these press conferences occupy time but often offer nothing new. Instead, in their silence, they simply come off as tone-deaf in nature, another sign of the Lam government’s inability to judge public sentiment. At other times, what revelations do emerge from these press conferences are highly enraging of the public, such as regarding the heavy use of tear gas by Hong Kong police, or due to the evasive answers by police spokespersons.

Lam, a career bureaucrat, originally proposed the extradition bill that sparked the protests. Lam had enjoyed a distinguished career leading up to her election as Hong Kong Chief Executive by a 1,200 member selection committee. However, it has not gone unnoticed that Lam’s children are, in fact, British citizens, while Lam herself gave up her British citizenship in 2007 in order to take up a post in the Hong Kong government.

Ironically, this has raised comparisons to Taiwan, in which members of the KMT have frequently been accused of holding American citizenships or Green Cards⁠—this despite the fact the KMT is promoting unification with China. The most famous example of such an individual would be no less than former president Ma Ying-jeou, who studied for his Ph. D in the United States, and was an American Green Card holder. During the Sunflower Movement and afterward, Ma was accused of having not actually given up his Green Card. Such accusations commonly follow suit against other high-profile Taiwanese politicians or government officials, with the view that politicians may espouse strong views regarding independence or unification, but secretly are holding onto the escape route of a Green Card.

One can draw comparisons with Lam, who acts as Beijing’s proxy in Hong Kong but whose family members hold British citizenship, who herself was a former British citizen, and who is periodically accused of not actually having given up her British citizenship. Apart from that this evidences political hypocrisy, this may be because Lam, Ma, and other pro-China politicians, whether in Hong Kong or Taiwan, actually realize the dangers that closer ties with China could potentially have for them and their families.

Lam, Ma, and other pro-China politicians may believe that, as political elites, they will not only retain their politically elite status under Chinese, but that they will profit substantially. In this sense, their self-interest diverges sharply from the regular, everyday people of Hong Kong or Taiwan. Hence their willingness to shrug off popular protests, such as the current protests in Hong Kong or the Sunflower Movement or any of the movements in Taiwan preceding the Sunflower Movement.

Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou. Photo credit: Presidential Office/Public Domain

That being said, because of the fact that the Chinese government does, in fact, turn on and purge its own political elites, also having British citizen or an American Green Card would be a way of hedging one’s bets and playing it safe for these political elites. It is for the same reason that many Chinese political and economic elites also hold Green Cards, having secured them through investment in the United States. One also notes that the children of many Chinese political or economic elites are sent to study abroad in the United States or other countries; yet the political contradictions of this run so deep that no less than Chinese president Xi Jinping’s daughter, Xi Mingze, studied at Harvard University.

Whether in terms of Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China, the interests of political and economic elites diverges sharply from the populations they rule over⁠—and in fact, they converge more often with each other than they do with regular members of the public. This is likely why political and economic elites in Taiwan and Hong Kong have no issue selling out the freedoms of their respective countries and territories to China.

Indeed, the actions of Carrie Lam, though sometimes inscrutable, can be understood best in this framework. Lam’s interests simply are not those of the Hong Kong people, which why she, members of her administration, or KMT members in Taiwan are willing to sell out the political and economic freedoms of the places they live in to China.

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