New HK chief calls on civil servants to unite

By on 06/07/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Hong Kong’s 170,000 civil servants received special attention at celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China (Image courtesy: CuttyP)

Hong Kong’s 170,000 civil servants received special attention on the inauguration of the city’s new chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but the ceremony was overshadowed by calls for officials to be “patriots who respect the Chinese people” and warnings that Hong Kong’s people mustn’t cross China’s “red line” around sovereignty and security.

Lam called on civil servants to “work in unison” in a letter dated 1 July, the day she was sworn in by China’s President Xi Jinping, the South China Morning Post reported.

The ceremony was the centrepiece of official celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China and the culmination of President’s Xi first visit to the territory, which was attended by tight security.

In the letter, Lam said the city’s civil servants face growing pressure and the government’s role needs to be redefined as a provider of public services and a facilitator of business. Implementation of policy has to be more closely aligned with public opinion in order to achieve social harmony and reinforce confidence in the administration, she argued.

“Hong Kong’s politics have changed in recent years,” the letter said. “Public expectations of the government administration continue to rise. Social confrontations increase and public servants often bear the brunt. The pressure faced by our colleagues is growing immensely.

“This government seeks to serve as a high-quality public service provider, regulator, facilitator and promoter. I trust all colleagues, across all departments, will work in unison to fulfil these roles.”

President Xi struck a conciliatory note in his 30-minute speech, stressing the scope of the “one country, two systems” model for governing Hong Kong. But he warned the territory not to cross the “red line” of undermining Chinese sovereignty and security, the SCMP reported.

Xi said that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, should be viewed as subordinate to China’s constitution.

“We should improve the relevant institutions and mechanisms for implementing the Basic Law and raise public awareness of the constitution and the Basic Law in Hong Kong, particularly among civil servants and the young people,” he said.

China’s President Xi Jinping warned Hong Kong’s people not to cross the ‘red line’ (Image courtesy: Angelica Rivera de Pena)

The city’s annual 1 July pro-democracy march went ahead as usual after Xi’s departure but with fewer supporters than usual. Some 20 demonstrators, including democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, were rounded up by police and taken away in vans after the march was disrupted by a group of pro-Beijing supporters.

The demonstrators said they were assaulted by the group and two protesters, including the League of Social Democrats’ chairman Avery Ng, claimed they were assaulted by police in the vans, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.

Lam, who is Hong Kong’s first female chief executive, takes the helm after a period of polarisation in Hong Kong over democracy and Chinese control that culminated in the 2014 Occupy Central protests.

Amid concern about growing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs by the central government, some groups, such as the recently-formed Hong Kong National Party, have even demanded the city’s independence from China.

Lam previously held the position of chief secretary, and led the government’s bid to extend the franchise for the chief executive while reserving special powers for Beijing. The reform package was voted down by the Legislative Council in 2015.

Of the 21 ministers and senior officials appointed to her government last month, 10 kept their previous posts and 10 were promoted from within the government and civil service. Just one, Law Chi-kwong, co-founder of the Democratic Party and a former lawmaker, was recruited from outside.

Zhang Dejiang, China’s third highest-ranking state official, said in a 50-minute speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on 27 May that the central government would invoke “implicit powers” in relation to Hong Kong, the SCMP reported.

Hong Kong’s “governing teams…must be made up of patriots who respect the Chinese people, sincerely support [China’s] resumption of sovereignty and pose no threat to [Hong Kong’s] prosperity and stability,” he said.

“The central government is responsible for supervising whether [Hong Kong’s] public officers uphold the Basic Law, and whether they pledge allegiance to the country and [Hong Kong].”

Former governor Chris Patten said Beijing has committed a series of “outrageous” breaches of the Joint Declaration, under which the territory’s capitalist system and way of life was to remain unchanged for 50 years from 1997, The Guardian reported. He gave as an example the recent alleged abduction of a group of Hong Kong political booksellers.

Lord Patten, who is now Chancellor of Oxford University, said he has some regrets about Britain’s handling of the handover, the Telegraph reported. “After the Joint Declaration was agreed, I think we should have been much more active in pushing the case for democracy or a faster pace of democratisation in Hong Kong,” he said.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said in a video message on the 20th anniversary: “The rule of law, an independent judiciary, and a free media have all been central to Hong Kong’s success. As we look to the future, Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress towards a fully democratic and accountable system of government.”

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See also:

Carrie Lam: what we know about Hong Kong’s chief executive-elect

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Christine Loh, Under Secretary for the Environment, Hong Kong: Exclusive Interview

Hong Kong and Singapore top global economic freedom ranking for 22nd year running

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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