Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the release of Liu Xia – widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo – was an “an act of humanitarianism” by Chinese authorities. The comment came during a fiery exchange with lawmaker Claudia Mo at a question-and-answer session at the legislature on Thursday.

Mo made reference to an interview with the Financial Times in March in which Lam praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as “charismatic.” She asked the Hong Kong leader: “Are you a Beijing groveller?”

carrie lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

Lam said in response: “I was asked in that Financial Times interview, could I name one leader of the world that I admired. I said yes, even running the risk of being accused of shoe-shining – President Xi.”

Liu – who had been under de facto house arrest without charge since 2010 – left Beijing on Tuesday to seek medical treatment in Germany. Her husband was jailed in 2008 for co-writing Charter 08 – a manifesto calling for democratic reform – and died last July from liver cancer while on medical parole.

See also: Liu Xia ‘on flight to Berlin’ after years of de facto house arrest

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Shortly after Liu travelled to Europe, Lam called the move a “humanitarian” act by China – a statement she repeated at the Legislative Council.

On Thursday, Mo said Liu’s release was an obvious political move and a diplomatic favour: “Now, after all the outrages perpetrated, the hostage was released… Why did you make that statement on behalf of Hong Kong people and exactly how, and what, do you mean?”

Lam said in response that the lawmaker’s English was good, so she should know that the statement was merely a description of events.

Claudia Mo
Claudia Mo. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

The session also included questions from lawmaker Ray Chan, who pressed Lam on her statement on Tuesday that the Court of Appeal’s ruling stating that spousal visas should be granted to same-sex couples in civil unions was an immigration issue, not an LGBTQ issue.

“The case was not about LGBT rights per se – it was as simple as that,” Lam said.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.