Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has said she will not hold public town hall meetings ahead of her policy address in October due to security concerns, but will “do more” to speak to “various sectors” in the city.

Her comments followed criticism of the leader and her officials for giving limited access to journalists and for not arranging to take phone-in questions from the public during an exclusive, hour-long interview with RTHK Radio 3’s Backchat programme on Friday morning.

Carrie Lam Backchat
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK Backchat via Facebook.

“I’m actually doing more in previous years in order to speak more to the different sectors,” the chief executive told show hosts Hugh Chiverton and Karen Koh.

“One has to bear in mind, for the chief executive, there’s always the security aspect to it, especially now that we have seen the ‘lone-wolf terrorist,'” she continued, referring to an incident on July 1 where a man killed himself after stabbing a police officer.

Instead, Lam said she will conduct more online and in-person public consultations in the lead up to her final policy address in October, when she is expected to present a policy road-map for the final eight months of her term in office.

Lam’s last open town hall meeting was held amid the political turmoil of 2019, when she was bombarded with angry criticism from the public. She remained trapped at the venue for four hours after its conclusion as protests took place outside.

Hong Kong saw months of unrest after protests erupted in June 2019 over a now-axed bill that would have allowed Hongkongers to be extradited to mainland China’s opaque legal system.

Carrie Lam Backchat Karen Koh Hugh Chiverton
Carrie Lam on RTHK’s Backchat with Karen Koh and Hugh Chiverton. Photo: RTHK Backchat via Facebook.

They descended into often violent clashes between protesters and police and prompted Beijing to impose a national security law critics say has been used by to quash political dissent. The authorities maintain that the law has restored stability.  

When pressed about whether there has been a breakdown of trust between the government and the people since the implementation of the national security law last June, Lam claimed there has been a “politically-motivated campaign” to undermine trust in her government.

“Trust is mutual,” Lam said.

‘Fourth power’

In the same interview, Lam insisted that the city’s freedoms remained intact while questioning the “integrity” of media over the publication of leaked statements in 2019.

“If you read the newspapers, and listen to the radio… everyday they are criticising government policies,” she said, refuting suggestions that Hongkongers were afraid to speak out under the security law.

“Everyday, the chief executive of Hong Kong is being attacked and presented in a negative way,” she added.

media journalism press freedom
File photo: StudioIncendo.

Responding to questions about whether the chief executive was answerable to the public, Lam said the media played an important role.

“The chief executive acts in a very transparent way,” she said. “You people from the media claim that you are the fourth power. So you can monitor whatever the behaviours that you feel are not right and you can report on it and somebody will take action.”

Lam however later criticised the media for publishing leaked comments from a meeting with business stakeholders in August 2019, where she was quoted as saying that the “havoc’ she had caused the city was “unforgiveable.

September 29 2019 Protest police tear gas
Photo: Studio Incendo.

“That was a closed-door meeting… But that shows the integrity and morality of some of the media…The media should not have reported something that was given in that fashion… perhaps a law needs to be introduced,” Lam said.

‘Dangerous lines’

Lam also told RTHK show talk host Karen Koh she was treading on “dangerous lines” after she made comments on a lack of open dialogue with the government during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

Lam cautioned the journalist after Koh interrupted the chief executive’s condemnation of the 2019 “riots.”

Carrie Lam Backchat
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK Backchat via Facebook.

“People were frustrated because they couldn’t have an open dialogue,” Koh said.

“You are treading on very dangerous lines,” Lam responded, without clarifying further.

The warning came after the leader said Hong Kong’s freedoms were alive and well under the national security law. “I would honestly ask you, what sort of freedoms have we lost, what sort of vibrancy has Hong Kong been eroded?,” she asked.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.