Hong Kong’s new leader promises caring, pragmatic rule; unveils cabinet

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s next leader said on Wednesday she would work to rebuild “social harmony” and push economic development while announcing a new cabinet with few new faces to govern the financial hub.

Carrie Lam, 60, Hong Kong’s first female chief executive, faces various challenges including healing social rifts as public resentment grows over what many see as Beijing’s interference in city affairs and its denial of full democracy.

“We pledge to serve the people with pragmatism and build a better Hong Kong for the next generation,” said Lam, who stood before a large sign with the words “We Care, We Listen, We Act” in announcing her new cabinet.

Lam and her leadership team will be sworn in on July 1 when the former British colony of 7.3 million people marks the 20th anniversary of its return to China.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule under promises enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, that it would be granted a high degree of autonomy, with full democracy an “ultimate aim”.

But two decades later, the city’s chief executive is still chosen by an electoral college stacked with Beijing loyalists.

China declined to make any concessions to student protesters demanding universal suffrage in “Occupy” street demonstrations in 2014.

Lam has promised a “new leadership style” after a sometimes divisive five years under a predecessor who many Hong Kong citizens saw as too keen to please Beijing.

Despite the promise of change, her team is made up mostly of familiar faces including Financial Secretary Paul Chan, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.

The only newcomer is Law Chi-kwong, a moderate former member of the Democratic Party, who will become the next labor and welfare secretary, an apparent nod to the opposition.

Lam said she would try “advancing democracy” but gave no specifics.

In an interview with China’s official Xinhua news agency this week, Lam warned Hong Kong activists not to promote independence from China.

“In the future the (Hong Kong) government will act strictly according to the law. Any action taken on ‘Hong Kong independence’ is against local laws. We must strictly implement the law,” Lam told Xinhua.

At a time when Hong Kong’s competitiveness, including in financial services, has been eroded by the likes of Singapore, Shanghai and London, Lam said a financial leaders forum would be formed to “push Hong Kong’s financial sector to a new level”.

Hong Kong should “have the guts” to change tax regulations to enhance competitiveness, she said.

(Reporting by James Pomfret, Venus Wu, William Ho and the Hong Kong newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)