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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Profile: Hong Kong's new leader Carrie Lam

Critics have said she will only further polarise a society riven by mass protests two years ago against Beijing's interference in the affairs of the semi-autonomous city and still divided between those loyal to China and those concerned about its growing influence.

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam, right, walks with her husband Lam Siu-por as she waves to guests before attending the flag raising ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover to China in Hong Kong, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam, right, walks with her husband Lam Siu-por as she waves to guests before attending the flag raising ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover to China in Hong Kong, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG // Carrie Lam's swearing-in as Hong Kong's new leader on Saturday marks the culmination of the lifelong civil servant's career as she inherits a divided city fearful of China's encroaching influence.

Ms Lam, 59, was widely seen as Beijing's preferred candidate when she was elected in March by a mainly pro-China committee representing special interest groups, from real estate and agriculture to teaching and medicine, as well as lawmakers.

But critics have said she will only further polarise a society riven by mass protests two years ago against Beijing's interference in the affairs of the semi-autonomous city and still divided between those loyal to China and those concerned about its growing influence.

Before landing the top job, Ms Lam served as deputy to her highly unpopular predecessor Leung Chun-ying, criticised as a puppet of Beijing.

Appointed by Mr Leung as chief secretary in 2012, the new leader promoted a Beijing-backed political reform package rejected as "fake democracy" by opponents.

Ms Lam - whose Cantonese name is Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor - is nicknamed "lai-ma" or "wet-nurse" by opponents in a jibe over what they say was fawning loyalty towards her former boss.

She is known as a tough and effective enforcer.

In 2007, she personally faced off with protesters over the demolition of a historic pier built during Hong Kong's colonial days under British rule. The landmark was ultimately destroyed.

At the height of the mass street protests in 2014 - known as the "Umbrella Movement" - she met with student representatives in a televised meeting about the political reform dispute.

In an interview last month with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Ms Lam said the government must imbue the young generation with a sense of Chinese national identity.

The government will "strictly enforce the law" against any acts advocating Hong Kong independence, she said.

Agence France-Presse