In a first for Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a live Facebook question-and-answer session on Friday as part of a consultation exercise for her October policy address.
Lam appeared for 48 minutes, taking around 30 questions from online commentators. Topics included immigration, housing, the economy and livelihood issues.
Facebook showed that the highest concurrent viewer number was around 2,200. Viewers left more than 10,000 comments, with many clicking “angry” emojis that appeared onscreen in real-time.
Lam was most frequently asked about the daily quota of 150 one-way permits, which allow mainland Chinese migrants to settle in Hong Kong. Currently, the Hong Kong government has no authority to vet or reject the migrants, and some viewers asked if the quota can be scrapped.
“[The quota] is an immigration policy decided before the Handover… More than 90 per cent of migrants come here for family reunions,” Lam said. “It is a human right.”
She added that some people had been “brainwashed” into thinking all social problems originate from the one-way permit, and cautioned against turning the policy into an easy target.
“Look at your friends and schoolmates, even some radical young people – perhaps they or their parents also came to Hong Kong with the one-way permit,” Lam said. “During the Occupy movement, I got to know a few who were immigrants. So why should we reject them?”
Lam said that Chinese migrants were not taking away public resources or jobs, and would strengthen Hong Kong’s aging labour force.
Lam also fielded multiple questions on housing policy, saying that her latest measures – announced in June – were in some sense adopting a Singaporean model.
“In terms of pricing and eligibility for subsidised flats, I am bolder [than previous administrations],” Lam said. “I am very willing to make subsidised housing available to people with higher incomes, like the policy in Singapore.”
However, she stressed that her first priority was increasing land supply. She said that Hong Kong had historically relied on land reclamation, and that the government has taken back land from developers via the Land Resumption Ordinance.
National security and freedom
When asked about legislation of Article 23, Hong Kong’s national security law, Lam said she wanted to wait until the time is right.
“My position is, there is a constitutional duty [to legislate] to protect national security. But if you start the process and fail, that will cause social strife,” Lam said. “I have to be cautious and make a decision based on time and circumstances.”
As for Hong Kong’s protection of constitutional rights, Lam said it was her job as chief executive to uphold rights enshrined in the Basic Law.
However, she said it would be “irresponsible” of her to allow independence activists like Andy Chan to promote his ideals publicly.
“Freedom of speech, assembly and the press are not absolute… otherwise the world would be in chaos,” she said. “If a person has a complaint, the good thing about Hong Kong is we have an independent judiciary, so the matter can be dealt with by courts.”
Lam also made commitments on labour policy.
“I can say, very boldly, that we will definitely solve issues around MPF offset for severance payments and long service payments. This has troubled us for a long time, and I will not back down,” Lam said.
Other topics discussed included special needs education, foreign domestic workers, the China-US trade war, public healthcare costs, animal rights and public space regulation.
Questions were chosen by two moderators, who alternated between a random draw of previously collected questions, and a selection from live comments.
Shortly after the session ended, the Facebook page of Raphael Wong, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said that Lam was carrying out a “fake consultation.”
“She didn’t even take a question on the MTR Shatin-Central Link. Public opinion is very clear,” the post read. Lam had, in fact, taken one question on the topic, but she said she could not comment due to an ongoing investigation into the construction scandals at the firm.
LGBTQ activist Billy Leung said that moderators deliberately ignored questions on passing an anti-sexual orientation discrimination law. Viewers had left a total of 399 comments on the topic during the live stream.
Since assuming office, Lam and her staff have shown a growing interest in using social media.
During the 2017 chief executive small-circle election, Lam’s opponent John Tsang said during a debate that she attracted so many visible “angry” emojis that, in the Facebook live video, they “reached up to [Lam’s] nose.”
In response, Lam said she did not have much time for Facebook, and that she had “always been an underdog in the world of Facebook.”
During Friday’s live video, Lam appeared at ease and answered questions without notes, occasionally reciting statistics and including personal anecdotes. After the session concluded, Lam’s Facebook page issued a post saying she “hopes to have more opportunities for online interaction in the future.”