Just five years ago the bosses in Beijing insisted that the annual reports prepared by the Chief Executive in Hong Kong should be entirely frank; ‘warts and all’ were required. However, the history of the way that things work in China suggests that being honest in this way is extremely problematic. The likelihood, therefore, is that the declaration itself was somewhat less than frank – and when Chief Executive Carrie Lam trekked up to Beijing last week to deliver her annual report it was notably lacking in ‘warts and all’. But what could she have written that would actually fulfil the strictures of the 2013 edict? As ever the HKFP is on hand to help – Ms Lam could maybe use what appears below as a useful starting point.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. File photo: Carrie Lam, via Facebook.

Dear Mr President,

I quite appreciate that you are not going to like some of what I have to say but, at least in theory, my primary responsibility is to safeguard the interests of the Hong Kong SAR which, are not necessarily the same thing as rigidly following the line set down in Beijing.

But let me start with matters which I know have your fulsome support. In the past year, I have instigated measures to crack down on the independence movement (admittedly it is quite small but these things have a habit of growing if not thwarted in their infancy). I have also taken steps to ensure that the legislature is even more compliant than before by getting my people on the council to change the rules of procedure so that pesky democratic legislators are not merely thrown out of Legco but also prevented from standing in future elections. This is all working very well.

Furthermore, in the spirit of the mainland’s highly successful efforts to suppress freedom of expression, I have taken measures to get the media bosses to understand the meaning of red lines not be crossed. And I have made a globally recognised gesture to show that the foreign media, which had a habit of operating without restraint in Hong Kong, can no longer do that. The successful expulsion of a leading foreign journalist was a first step. More will follow.

I know you are impatient for me to bring forward legislation to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law but I believe I have successfully demonstrated that even without new legislation we are able to crack down on the opposition, send their leaders to jail and foster an atmosphere that recognises the limitations to freedom of speech.

As you and your colleagues have often pointed out, the HKSAR has enormous financial reserves that were largely built up on the back of Hong Kong’s role as a middleman facilitating business between the PRC and the outside world. Payback time has arrived and we have unstintingly used a very large proportion of this money to fund major infrastructure projects that underline the connection between the HKSAR and the mainland. There have been problems and truth be told both the new Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong bridge and the new hi-speed railway to Guangzhou are operating rather significantly below expected levels but usage is not the point, the real purpose of these projects is to erect tangible symbols of the unity between the SAR and the mother country.

xi jinping
Xi Jinping in Hong Kong in 2017. File photo: GovHK.

In this regard, we are excited by the prospect of having a branch of the Palace Museum at our new cultural hub in West Kowloon. I am confident it will overshadow everything else there, at least that’s the plan. Then there are the massive investments we are contemplating for a hi-tech zone between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, fear not, we will pay the lion’s share of the costs.

And, talking about money, we do have a very real problem arising out of this trade war nonsense with the United States and the wider ramifications of our commercial relations with other foreign countries. We have faithfully followed the party line in these matters and strictly echoed whatever is being said in Beijing. The problem is that many foreign countries are coming around to the view that Hong Kong no longer qualifies for its middleman role and is becoming merely another Chinese city.

This has already, for example, hit one of our leading companies that has been barred from operating a major utility in Australia on national interest grounds and now US Congressmen are trying to strip away our separate status in trade matters. I’m not sure what we can do about all this but thought you ought to know that it’s a real problem.

Another real problem is our young people. Believe me, we have tried and will try again but all evidence points to the fact that they fail to identify with the motherland and insist on thinking of themselves as Hongkongers or some other nonsense. Obviously, we will punish those who go too far but attitude change is proving harder to achieve than I previously imagined. Maybe the new national anthem law will help and meanwhile, we intend to give lots more money to patriotic youth organizations.

I am loath to bother you with mere social matters but unfortunately, the wealth gap here continues to widen (as it does on the mainland), the poor are getting poorer and the housing situation stubbornly refuses to improve. My current thinking involves emptying out more or less all our fiscal reserves on one massive new project to extend Lantau island and build housing there. As you will have heard many of our richest citizens like this plan a lot and will make many new fortunes out of it. So, fingers crossed even though there are protests but I judge them to be quite manageable.

xi jinping Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping. File photo: GovHK.

My general view is that Hong Kong people are quite gullible, and you can ‘sell’ them more or less anything by repeatedly saying that you are concentrating on livelihood issues and producing economic benefits. This is the line I have given the pro-government camp minions to use, trust me, they are really good at taking orders.

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to sincerely thank you for keeping my pesky predecessor CY Leung in his box. Despite his frequent and desperate attempts to gain attention and secure office in some shape or form, you have wisely decided to back me, even though we carried out your instructions not to go through with prosecuting him. Personally, I think this was a mistake but orders are orders.


Carrie ?

(if I may be so bold).

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship