Chief executive candidate Carrie Lam has raised eyebrows after likening online criticism to “white terror.”

“I have recently become a victim of white terror. Whatever I say will draw criticism on the internet. That’s fine – I have been prepared for that. But this kind of white terror has extended to my supporters, including [actress] Josephine Siao,” she said.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Stand News, via Facebook.

“People personally attacked her on the internet. This kind of white terror is not acceptable in Hong Kong and should not be tolerated.”

The former Hong Kong no.2 official made the remarks on Sunday at a forum hosted by Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. She was responding to a question about how she would protect the education sector from white terror, in light of recent events such as the government’s legal challenges against lawmakers.


Former education sector lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said Lam’s comparison was inaccurate. “White terror refers to the suppression of dissent by people in power or the state,” he said after the debate.

Giving a similar definition of the term, law professor Benny Tai said: “It seems that after years of working in the government, Lam still does not understand what white terror is. It is quite disappointing.”

Lam explained after the forum that she did not know the exact definition of white terror.

“But I think that accusations and conduct that leads to fear should be a form of white terror,” she said.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Stand News, via Facebook.

White terror refers to direct or indirect pressure exerted by those with political power. Regionally, it is often used to describe the decades-long, violent suppression of political dissidents by the Republic of China government during the 20th century.

‘Voices of young people’

Lam’s rival John Tsang said in response: “Online comments cannot be described as ‘white terror.’ White terror has been seen at many recent events – we all know what they are – and young people want to express their opinion on these events. They are not attacking anyone. If we try to suppress their voices – that would be white terror.”

The former finance chief then quoted from his favourite song The Sound of Silence: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls… The subway wall is the internet. We see a lot of words of wisdom online, and we should pay attention to them in order to understand young people.”

A third candidate Woo Kwok-hing promised not to sue lawmakers or critics if he is elected.

John Tsang (R), Carrie Lam (L). Photo: Stand News, via Facebook.

Veteran journalist Bruce Lui said Lam’s aggression contrasted with Tsang’s open-minded attitude. “Her performance indirectly did Tsang a favour.”

Lui, who is an elector representing the higher education sector, said he would likely not vote for Lam because she failed to show her commitment to ensure academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

Meanwhile, Beijing-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po criticised Tsang for urging people to respect freedom of speech. It said online attacks on Lam’s supporter Josephine Siao were “extremely malicious.”

The small-circle chief executive election takes place on March 26. The three candidates will debate each other again on Tuesday at a forum hosted by seven media outlets.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.