Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s cabinet reshuffle announced on Wednesday is aimed at strengthening the government’s power in fighting political battles, a leader of Beijing’s top think tank in the city has said.
Speaking to RTHK on Thursday, Vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies Lau Siu-kai said the reshuffle was not about meeting the demands of the opposition to punish particular officials.
Instead, it was aimed at helping Lam’s administration fight political turmoil and resist local and foreign opposition, he said.
“The reshuffle would enable the Hong Kong government to be more capable [in] supporting Beijing’s new policy towards Hong Kong, which is a pretty hard-line policy,” Lau said.
“That is to protect national security, and to make sure that local and external hostile forces are not able to control the decision[s] of Hong Kong,” he added.
When asked about rumours that Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung would be the next to be replaced, the think tank chief denied the rumour and said he would not expect to see many more personnel changes in near future.
But he said a reshuffle could take place in the Executive Council, depending on whether Lam wants the advisory body to play a stronger role in her governance: “Politics is politics, it is hard to make any precise and definitive prediction at the moment.”
No ‘honeymoon period’
On Wednesday, Lam announced to remove four principal officials and appointed five new ministers. The most notable personnel change was the replacement of Patrick Nip, former head of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau by Erick Tsang, who served as the Director of Immigration.
Nip was transferred to lead the Civil Service Bureau, amid a row over the government’s contradictory statements about the constitutional status of Beijing’s agencies in Hong Kong.
Two newly appointed ministers – Caspar Tsui and Christopher Hui – are both members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). The pro-Beijing party’s chair Starry Lee said on Wednesday that she hoped Hui would “fully utilise his experience at the DAB” in his new role.
Another DAB member, Horace Cheung, who is also a member of the Executive Council, said the party was glad to see the ability and talent of its members being recognised.
“Of course I’m happy to see two capable persons belonging to the DAB being appointed by the Central Government as secretaries. But it is not a deal between the DAB and the HKSAR government,” he said.
Lee said the most crucial task for the new mainland affairs secretary is to ensure the Legislative Council Election would be held smoothly in September.
“[Tsang has to] ensure violent incidents would not affect the fairness of the election, as well as taking our suggestion [to implement] electronic voting,” Lee said.
Cheung added there are high expectations upon the new secretaries, who all have important tasks in specific areas. He said the new Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit and Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui, for example, would need to help the city’s economy take off again.
“[The new ministers] don’t have a ‘honeymoon period’ as citizens are in deep waters. Citizens are eager to see some changes,” Cheung said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Democratic Party lawmaker James To described the cabinet reshuffle as “pointless.” He said that, in reforming the cabinet, officials with the lowest popularity ratings should resign first. From the citizens’ point of view, those officials would be the Chief Executive, the Secretary for Justice and Secretary for Security, who backed the now-axed extradition bill that sparked months of large-scale protests, To said.
He added that he could not see how the reshuffle would help the government in redeeming its popularity.
“Citizens believe that if [Carrie Lam] is not going, at least two chief sectaries should step down. Right now, citizens are just angrier and cannot understand what the government is doing, what the Central Government is thinking,” To said.
Correction 24.4.20: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the new secretary for innovation and technology and secretary for financial services and the treasury as Nicholas Yang and James Lau. They are Alfred Sit and Christopher Hui.