Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that social media has an enduring impact in promoting harmful thoughts among students as she expressed concern that over 3,000 students have been arrested since protests broke out last June.

Lam told Hong Kong Open TV’s Vincent Wong in a show broadcast on Thursday that social media had an impact: “Students spend hours every day receiving information through online social media. If someone makes use of social media to promote their deceitful thoughts, it will be very influential.”

Photo: Hong Kong Open TV screenshot.

“Some people – whom we may be unaware of – may not like their own country or may be anti-government,” Lam said.

Demonstrations erupted last June over an ill-fated extradition bill which would have allowed transfers of fugitives from Hong Kong to mainland China. City-wide protests and unrest developed into greater calls for democracy as thousands were arrested.

Manifesto promises

When challenged about her education pledges during her election campaign, Lam said that resources have not been a problem as HK$13 billion has been earmarked as recurrent expenditure to ensure the stable development of the sector: “My responsibility as the chief executive is to care for students and teachers by providing an environment that is stable, caring, inspirational and satisfying,” she said.

Lam also said that the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office – her policy advisers – had told her that she had over-delivered on her election manifesto promises.

“I am an earnest person… I do not over-promise.” She cited the extension of statutory maternity leave from 10 weeks to 14 weeks as an example of honouring her election pledge.

Photo: GovHK.

As an example of one of her over-accomplishments, Lam said that the monthly allowance of around HK$3,700 for those aged over 65 is a popular retirement security option, along with the raising of the application asset limit to HK$500,000.

Her remarks prompted discussion on Hong Kong’s Reddit-like LIHKG forum, popular with the protest movement. One of the commenters wrote: “Of course, it is an over-accomplishment. You did not promise that the UK and US sanctions would be coming – yet you totally nailed it.”

US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act earlier this week to end Hong Kong’s special trade status and backed banking sanctions following Beijing’s enactment of national security legislation.

The national security law criminalises subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers – it was enacted on June 30. The law was promulgated directly by China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, bypassing the local legislature to be inserted into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Press freedom

Lam also told the host that the government currently had no plans to regulate the media, but the national security local committee that she is chairing may discuss the matter further in the coming days.

Articles 9 and 10 of the law state that the government can take “take necessary measures to strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security… including the media and the internet” and that national security education will be promoted through the media.

Lam said she has reassured the media that press freedom and freedom of speech are protected under the new law: “It is stated in the overview section of the law that, whilst national security has to be safeguarded, human rights will also be respected and defended.”

File photo: United Social Press.

Citing conflicts between journalists and law enforcement on the frontlines of protests, Lam said the stakes of the two parties concerned should be properly balanced: “[So that] the government can maintain law and order and effectively enforce the law and the media can be ensured enough room for objective reporting.”

Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.