Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has told US media she is optimistic that the Biden administration will give her government a “fair hearing” regarding the national security law. She also praised the role in Hong Kong of British-headquartered HSBC and said she would love to see the bank expand in the city.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Bloomberg TV screenshot.

In television interviews with CNBC and Bloomberg TV reporters on Thursday, Lam addressed questions on the city’s relationship with the US and the UK. “Hong Kong has been used as a pawn by the [previous] US administration whenever they have something they want to do with the relationship with our country [China],” she told CNBC.

Lam said it had been a “tough period” for Hong Kong due to laws passed by the US Congress and presidential executive orders which affected businesses and individuals, including herself. But she said she remains “optimistic” that the new US administration “will give us a fair hearing as far as the national security law is concerned,” and consider “the very strong bilateral relationship between the US and Hong Kong” as well as “the very strong US business interests in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the US. From left to right: Steve Li Kwai Wah, Edwina Lau, Li Jiangzhou, Deng Zhonghua Photo: Internet.

Critics say the security law imposed by Beijing on June 30 has been used to suppress pro-democracy forces and freedom of speech. Lam has said it was necessary to quell months of sometimes violent protests which began in 2019.

The US has sanctioned 35 mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials including Lam herself for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy” or having responsibility for human rights abuses. Last year it ordered that Hong Kong goods for export to the US must be relabelled “Made in China” instead of “‘Made in Hong Kong.”

Lam did not respond to a question on whether she would seek re-election as chief executive in March 2022, but said: “I just try to comfort myself that very often, women are being left to do the most difficult job. And I happen to be one of them.”

In a separate interview with Bloomberg Lam addressed the role of HSBC in the city and predicted that China likely would not take action against banks that comply with US sanctions.

HSBC has found itself under fire from both sides as the international dispute over Hong Kong intensifies. It came under pressure from pro-Beijing elements to express support for the national security law but was strongly criticised by democracy supporters at home and overseas when it did so.

The British bank has reportedly closed accounts of people on both sides: those sanctioned by the US and also the accounts of former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui. The bank’s CEO Noel Quinn was summoned on Tuesday by the British parliament to explain its decision to close Hui’s bank account.

Carrie Lam. File photo: WEF.

“Of course I’d love to see a stronger presence of the bank in Hong Kong and I have been communicating with HSBC senior officials from time to time…” Lam told Bloomberg.

She also said China probably would not take action against lenders which comply with US sanctions, an action which the security law forbids. “I don’t see why the Central People’s Government would take that sort of action.” 

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.