Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks during a joint interview with media outlets in Hong Kong, Sept. 13, 2021. (LUI SIU WAI / XINHUA)
In the first of our two-part special on the outgoing Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Carrie Lam is on the show this week.
She says it is necessary to revisit Basic Law articles 23 and 45 as this is not only the HKSAR's constitutional duty, but they're also needed to strengthen the “one country, two systems”.
Lam also stresses the importance of engaging young people in formulating different policies.
Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with Carrie Lam
Chan: Good evening. I'm Eugene Chan with Straight Talk. Our guest tonight is Mrs Carrie Lam. She is our first female Chief Executive. After spending 42 years serving Hong Kong with the last five years at her helm, she's leaving at the end of this month. We are delighted to have Mrs Lam on the show over the next two weeks to talk about the foundations that have been laid for Hong Kong to build over the next 25 years. Welcome Mrs Lam.
Welcome you to our show. It will be like another nine days before your office ends. And in the past few weeks, there have been a lot of interviews reflecting on the work you have done. You use the word unprecedented challenges and I think it is an understatement because to many, if you unwind all the events, to many they’re like nightmares. So much that people they just dare not to sleep again. For example, there are people who have lost loved ones through COVID, for myself, my father. Also, we had never seen riots like this ever in Hong Kong before. We've never seen police officers being attacked and outnumbered. Our MTR infrastructure has been smashed. LegCo chambers being intruded. Hong Kong people love travelling, but we can't even go out for a meal properly. So, being at the helm of the position, it must be very stressful. And you mentioned that you even have your mobile phone right by your bedside so that you could make instant decisions. You never said anything like resigning. I'm sure you had your support of your family. But it sounds like a very lonely and tough job at the top. If you knew all this would have happened, would you have taken on the position five years ago?
Lam: I never expected an easy job throughout my career, although the degree of the complexity varies significantly. But in every of the public positions that I have taken, I could recount some of those social tensions even as a Secretary of Development with the demolition of the Queen's pier, where the demolition of the unauthorized structures in the small houses, you remember those scenes and so on. So, I'm not the person who will shy away from difficulties, but indisputably the last five years have been the most difficult since reunification. But looking at it from a positive side, one would say that at least after 25 years, in terms of faithfully implementing “One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong is now on the right track in terms of safeguarding national interest and security, Hong Kong now has a national security law, in terms of ensuring that the legislature will perform their duties faithfully in terms of checks and balances and scrutinizing the government proposals, we now have a Legislative Council, which is comprising of patriots administering Hong Kong. They could still debate and attack the government or force us to make changes here and there. But at least the common objective is to make sure that “one country, two systems” will succeed.
Chan: Right. CE, I'm sure your fighting spirit has sustained you right to this moment. You mentioned that you are happy with your own report card. But unfortunately, some people in the society don't appreciate it, despite your good intentions. This must be frustrating. And will you call this part of being public services as part of the package one has to take on, to be not being appreciated by some people?
Lam: I… again, I've been very used to that sort of lack of appreciation in the various things that I have done. I still remember when I announced the development of a Hong Kong Palace Museum in Hong Kong in late 2016, the then opposition members and the political parties were attacking me for not being transparent enough and not undertaking full public consultations. But now five years later, when everybody stands in front of this wonderful Palace Museum, they will start to appreciate it. They might not remember about my contribution but at least they will appreciate this beautiful museum and the treasures coming from the Palace Museum in Beijing. So, I have been guided by the conviction as a public official, that never mind about personal glory. The important judgment is whether we are doing good things for Hong Kong.
Chan: Yes. Chief Executive, you mentioned that you have been serving Hong Kong in different capacities for the last 42 years…
Chan: …and you have actually before the return to the motherland and even after the handover. We have had a lot of problems over the last 20 years, like housing and the “One Country, Two Systems” how we interpret that. So, it seems that all the problems started to explode in the last 10 years, especially the last five years? Do you think this is a blessing in disguise, as you just mentioned, with the improved electoral system, ensuring patriots administrating Hong Kong plus national security legislation, does it put Hong Kong in a better position for the next 25 years?
Chan: Well, I certainly would like to think that way. Because adopting the analogy used by President Xi Jin-ping, when he was here five years ago, in his keynote address on the first of July, he did remind us that because “One Country, Two Systems” is such an innovative concept, unprecedented, so as it evolves in his implementation, it will face new issues and new circumstances. And that is exactly what we have faced. Not only in the last five years, but occasionally, almost at every stage, we faced that problem. So, the important thing is really to grasp the true meaning of “One Country, Two Systems”, and the relationship between one country and the two systems, the relationship between the central authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and to act in full accord with the People's Republic of China's constitution and the Basic Law. And what I have led the Hong Kong SAR in the last few years, is exactly following the advice to act in accordance with the Basic Law and to safeguard the one country concept. So, with that very strong foundation being laid, again, using President Xi's analogy that the roots of “One Country, Two Systems” have been strengthened, because the one country concept has been strengthened. So, one would expect the two systems to flourish, this tree will grow tall and luxuriant. Because the fundamentals are good, Hong Kong's fundamentals are good, the soil is good. We now have the water and the sunlight. But I would suggest that we should not be complacent, we need to find the right fertilizers for this tree to grow.
Chan: Which is?
Lam: Which is something we have all done that is taking technology and innovation to a new height, which is investing more in the people that is educated, from kindergarten all the way up to higher education, which is allowing Hong Kong to have more cultural diversity, in terms of the arts, culture, and so on.
Chan: CE, just now we mentioned that with all the new systems in place, we're in a much better soil for development. You even mentioned that universal suffrage for the Chief Executive. Hopefully, we can see that one day or very soon. And you also maintain that the extradition bill is still needed to prevent the criminals from hiding in the society. Shall we visit that one day when the timing is right, in your opinion?
Lam: Certainly so because all these are things that we have to do in order to strengthen the “one country, two systems”, particularly on national security, and also on democracy, because the two things you mentioned, Eugene, and they are all in a Basic Law, which means we have a constitutional duty to implement them now. BL 23 is about national security, local legislation. BL 45 is about universal suffrage in the selection of the Chief Executive. So I'm sure now we now have at least the Hong Kong National Security Law, the establishment of the institutions that is the national security committee chaired by the Chief Executive and dedicated departments in the Police and in the Department of Justice to undertake work relating to national security, then the next stage will be to comprehensively look at what else we should do in putting in place BL 23 As far as national security is concerned, as far as the electoral arrangements, since the improvements, we now have a broadly representative 1500 election committee, which will, under BL 45 become the nominating committee. We now have the very solid nominating arrangement that you need to get support or nominations from each and every of the five sectors. We now have by law a candidate eligibility review committee to ensure that the candidates are patriots, then there’s… in my view, we have all the necessary ingredients for moving forward.
Chan: Okay, let's take a break and don't go away.
Chan: Welcome back. With us tonight is Mrs Carrie Lam, our Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, who gave us her insight on what has happened on the political scene in Hong Kong over the past 25 years.
So, Mrs Lam, we had touched on some basic fertilizers, and we talked about, how to move Hong Kong forward. When you took office, two important areas that you mentioned were housing and also the youth. We saw that you managed to find 21,000 units for transition housing, and also 40 percent more public housing compared to the last government. Are you satisfied with that?
Lam: No, because the waiting time for public rental housing unit is still very long, it is over 6 years.
From 3.8 years many years ago.
But this is not as a result of something that we have done. This lengthened waiting time is because of the things that we could have done better for a very long period. You remember after the Asian financial crisis, with the significant drop in property prices, by the way, during the first term of the Hong Kong SAR government, residential prices had dropped by 50 percent odd.
Chan: Yes, I remember that.
Lam: And as a result, you cannot say this is not a legitimate response that the then government tried to sort of make changes to the housing and land policies. But I personally feel that land is such an important resource in Hong Kong, that we should not be affected by short-term fluctuations in property prices or even in the economy, to stop the supply of land because it will need a very long time to catch up. And when we started to catch up, when I was Secretary for Development, we were then faced with a lot of resistance, you remember all this social tension on reclamation, not Victoria Harbour but even outside Victoria Harbour reclamation, it was very controversial.
Lam: And all these difficulties of clearance and resuming land in the New Territories. Let alone in the current term, a simple item to secure $500 million to do a major study on the “Lantau Tomorrow”, that is the artificial island reclamation, had taken us over 20 months.
Chan: Sorry to…
Lam: So, this catching up is becoming very difficult until recently.
Chan: Yes. Sorry to interrupt you. When you talked about “Lantau Tomorrow” and also the “Northern Metropolis” project, it sounds great. But what would you say to a young couple who want to have family of their own and have their own place in the meantime? What will you say to them?
Lam: Well, I think in terms of homeownership, the important thing is certainty, the important thing is hope. Okay, there's a young couple, but if I were to tell you that in 5 years or 10 years’ time, houses are more affordable and the supply is more assured. Then you do not need to rush to buy now, you can wait and see until the market stabilizes. And secondly, it is in our housing policy, by reconstructing the housing ladder, in my term, we now have the “Starter Homes”. And the “Starter Homes” could benefit really middle to higher income families. But at the moment, the supply is not enough, so ultimately it is a question of supply. And the supply of flats ultimately is a supply of land issue. That's why I have been making very strong appeals – please let us do the “Lantau Tomorrow” reclamation because that is new land created, at least 1000 hectares in the first phase. “Northern Metropolis” also helps, but because this is not new land, this is reassembling the land, there is no net increase in the land of Hong Kong. But if you look back at history, Hong Kong’s success lies in creating land.
Chan: Yes, indeed.
Chan: Right. A personal question – will you consider buying a property in Hong Kong one day?
Lam: Probably not, I am too old already.
Chan: Are you? Right, let’s move on to… Since we are on Straight Talk, I want to ask you some direct questions. Many of our guests who have been to the show have commented about the resumption of part of the Fanling golf course. This was one of the options that has drawn a lot of resentment from the sporting community. And a lot of people want it to be reconsidered, lots of the heritage and also ecological conservation. Do we really have to compromise? Do we have to really go down this way to work on a place that has been built for over 100 years?
Lam: Well, in terms of land supply options, there will be trade off. There is no easy solution.
Chan: Exactly, that’s why I asked you.
Lam: As I just mentioned, reclamation is supported by some people but opposed by other people, the environmentalists. And clearing farmland is supported by some people but opposed by the farmers, all right? So, there's no easy solution. At the end of the day, it’s trying to strike a balance in the best interest of Hong Kong. So, when you said that a lot of your guests coming here oppose the partial resumption of the Fanling golf course, I can tell you there is far more people out there who wanted the government to do this, because otherwise they say it’s unfair when people are living in subdivided flats, cubicles, and so on. And only a small minority of people are occupying a large piece of land to play golf. There is this difference in society that the government has to seriously balance and then decide. I thought we have come to a sensible plan that we are only resuming part of it, and even within that part of it, which will not affect the playing of golf, by the way, we are concentrating the houses to a part of it. So that we could preserve the mature trees, the heritage, and even the graves, to become a sort of garden for the people to enjoy. But at the moment, there is one issue which may affect the golf course development, that is transport. Lately when we published the Environmental Impact Assessment for the public to express their opinion, there seems to be quite a lot of voices from the Northern District residents and rural committees about the traffic congestion. So, I'm sure this will be taken into account in the next stage of evaluation.
Chan: Right. Another part before we go for the break, I want to ask you about education that you always feel so passionate about, you have put in a lot of resources into this. And one notable thing is we have the reintroduction of Chinese history into the curriculum, and also changed from Liberal Studies to Citizen and Social Development. What do you see our youth in 5 years’ time? Will you expect them to be more patriotic and more competitive?
Lam: Actually, our young people are very very competitive, our young people are very promising because I did go into schools quite often, and you know in my term I have introduced a scheme called “Self-nomination” by young people who sit on the government boards and committees. So, young people aged between 18 and 35, who previously would have absolutely no chance to become a member of a big committee, now they have this chance. And we have recruited quite a large number of young people. I met them recently and they are all very promising young people.
Lam: They are very passionate about Hong Kong. But what is lacking previously is they don't have enough understanding about governance, about how a government operates. So, by allowing them to come into the government, even not as a full-time job worker, but as a committee member, they have a better understanding. So, I am very confident with the work that we have done in education, and with the support of the schools and also the teachers, our next generation will become what I aspire them to be, that is they have a strong sense of national identity, they have a global perspective, they want to serve the society, and they love Hong Kong.
Chan: Mrs Lam, as you… also in your term, you also established the Youth Development Commission.
Chan: And in last year's policy address, when you look at the reorganization of the government structure, you made the Home Affairs Bureau into Home Affairs and Youth Affairs Bureau. So, what have you got in mind? I mean you are raising the youth matters right on the table now, what are your thinking behind?
Lam: Actually, in this reorganization of the government structure, which the CE elect has fully adopted, but in addition he wanted to have the deputy secretary’s position. One of the objectives is really to highlight the importance of certain policy areas. So, youth, I think is a very important area. Culture is a very important area. And reindustrialization is a very important area. So, all these names now get into the name of the bureau, so that people will know that we are attaching importance to those areas, you can find the relevant bureau secretary to talk about these affairs. But there is a lot of room for the new secretary and for the new government, to decide on what to do about young people because young people's interests almost fall under each and every of the policy areas, from education to technology, to finance, to culture, and so on. So, what I have done is really just to bring young people affairs to a higher level, and enable the new Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs to have this mandate to look after young people in a more comprehensive manner, and preferably to empower the young people. Young people sometimes do not want to be taught and lectured. They want to be trusted that they could also do things and make things on their own, so, I hope the new secretary will be able to provide that inspiration.
Chan: Right. Thank you, Mrs Lam. That is all the time we have. Mrs Lam has given us her views on political and housing situation. Next week, we will continue to talk to Mrs Carrie Lam, she will share with us about education, talents, and more. Have a good week and good night.