Carrie Lam, 62, is the first female Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Lam was Secretary for Development from 2007 to 2012 before moving up to Chief Secretary of Administration from 2012-2017. She left her career in government to enter the Chief Executive race in 2017 where she won the election.
She’s been embroiled in the biggest controversy of her career over a recent extradition bill that stemmed from Hong Kong citizen Chan Tong-kai who was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Tapei and then fleeing home. Taiwanese authorities were unable to extradite him which led to the proposed bill.
The bill would allow Hong Kong citizens accused of certain crimes to be extradited and tried in mainland China courts. It has led to the largest protest in Hong Kong history with over 2 million citizens taking to the streets on Tuesday calling for the bill to be shelved and Lam to resign.
The protest turned violent shen police started using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray on protestors. The Hong Kong Journalists Association filed a complaint to a police watchdog over 27 reported cases of alleged violence or harassment.
After the largest public demonstration in the 22 years of Chinese rule, Lam released a statement where she apologized for the bill on Sunday. “The chief executive apologizes to the citizens and promises to accept criticism with the most sincere and humble attitude,” The apology was not well received by protestors who said she was only doing so because of the backlash and was lying about her intentions to shelve the bill.
When her first apology only fueled the protestors’ ire, Lam publicly apologized on Tuesday again, in person this time “I offer my most sincere apology to all the people of Hong Kong,” Carrie Lam said, “As a chief executive I still have more to learn, and to do better to balance diverse interests and listen to people from all walks of life.”
The protests happened against a backdrop of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Beijing. The two countries are currently engaged in a trade war and China has blamed the United States for escalating tensions in the city. This also made it difficult for Hong Kong to back down which was viewed by China as a capitulation to the West.
Lam postponed the bill indefinitely in the face of the mounting controversy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She’s Been Embroiled in Controversy Before
Lam was at the center of the 2014 political reform controversy in Hong Kong when she became head of the Task Force on Constitutional Development responsible for instituting reform on electoral methods for the 2017 Chief Executive election and 2016 Legislative Council election. Basic Law Committee member Rao Geping shut down any possibility of open nominations immediately which led to pan-democrats accusing Lam of deciding on the issue without open and honest debate.
A large scale, 79-day occupation protest followed. During the protests, Lam went on television to debate student leaders on the issue. Her approval rating plummeted for the first time in her career following the debacle.
She was also criticized for being the only public official not to apologize after traces of dangerous metals including lead and cadmium were found in Hong Kong drinking water in 2015. She explained at the time “”even though the commission’s hearings reflected an inadequate awareness by government departments and flaws in the monitoring system, it did not necessarily equate to particular officials not following laws or neglecting duties – because of that, they do not have to bear personal responsibility.”
Lastly, she came under fire for her lack of transparency during the public consultation on the $3.5 billion Palace Museum project. Critics argued that she appointed architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee behind closed doors and failed to incorporate public opinion before deciding whether or not to approve the project.
2. She Grew Up Poor
Carrie Lam grew up in poverty. She was the fourth of five children and grew up in a crowded tenement building in Lockhart Road, Wan Chai. Her humble roots and upbringing endeared her to the people of Hong Kong and she was one of the most well-liked politicians in the country before numerous scandals rocked her career.
3. Carrie Lam is not a Supporter of Same Sex Marriage
Lam went to Catholic school at St.Francis’ Canossian College and is a devout Catholic. Her upbringing and religious views might explain her stance on same-sex marriage in Hong Kong. While she hasn’t publicly come out against it, in 2018 she said that “same-sex marriage was an issue that lacked societal consensus”
After a court ruling in Hong Kong ruled in favor of a same-sex couple’s dependent visa application, Lam was asked if this moved Hong Kong closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. “I’m afraid not.” she replied, “Because this remains a very controversial issue in Hong Kong,” Despite growing support for same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, Lam has stuck to her position.
4. She’s Married to Chinese Mathematician Lam Siu-Por Who Currently Lives in Britain
Carrie Lam met Lam Siu-por while she was attending Cambridge University. The two fell in love after Carrie broke her leg in a bicycle accident and Lam Siu-por visited her frequently in the hospital. They later got married and now have two sons, one who lives in the United States and the other in Beijing.
Lam currently is a British citizen currently living in the UK while Lam is in Hong Kong. She has stated publicly that she misses her husband “I have talked to my husband and asked him to come back and be with me more,” she said in a 2013 interview, but “he likes to stay in Britain and do what he likes to do.”
5. She Has a History of Fighting for the People
Throughout her life, Carrie Lam has developed a reputation as a woman of the people. During her time at Hong Kong University, she was a student activist that fiercely supported boat-dwellers from being evicted from the Yau Ma Tei harbor in Kowloon.
At the height of the SARS epidemic in 2003, she teamed up with three civil servants to raise $80 million for children who had been orphaned by SARS. She’s been involved in various other causes including helping to organize Paralympics Equestrian Events and the West Kowloon Cultural District plan.