Chief Executive Carrie Lam has dismissed speculation over the way she and Chinese President Xi Jinping entered the opening ceremony for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Tuesday. The pair walked side by side, though Lam said it was only because other state leaders were being polite.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and China’s President Xi Jinping arrive at the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge at the Zhuhai Port terminal on October 23, 2018. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP.

The arrangement sparked speculation over whether Xi intended to highlight the importance of Hong Kong and increase Lam’s authority.

“There is no such interpretation,” Lam told reporters at the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday night before a working trip.

Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

“But as you have noticed, I am the only female member of the guests of honour. During the whole process, including a short meeting [with Xi], other guests – including the two vice-premiers – were very polite. [They said] you should stand closer, walk further in front. That’s all. There’s no other interpretation.”

Lam said Xi cared about the bridge and Hong Kong’s progress in the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

“For example, he said: There will be more exchange of people and goods, can the Hong Kong International Airport meet capacity?” Lam said. “I said our airport is very good, we are no.3 in the world for passenger numbers and no.1 in terms of goods. But we are close to saturation.”

“President Xi is comforted that we are planning the third runway system – I told him we are reclaiming 650 hectares of land to build the third runway system.”

‘Ranking’

Bruce Lui, a scholar and a former Chinese affairs journalist, said he believed that Xi arranged to walk alongside Lam, since Xi ranked much higher than her, and ranking was an important factor in the mainland’s political culture.

Lui told Apple Daily that Beijing may have rethought Hong Kong’s role in light of the ongoing US trade war: “Beijing sees that –  under all kinds of limitations – Hong Kong can do something that the mainland cannot do. Including the movement of funds, so that the mainland can set up companies in Hong Kong to introduce technologies, funds and cooperation with foreign countries,” he said.

Lui said the arrangement on Tuesday gave preferential treatment to Lam: “It was to show Lam’s authority through these acts, so that when Article 23 (the national security law) has to be enacted… she will have more authority.”

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.