As with governors in colonial times, Hong Kong Chief Executives traditionally receive Foreign Correspondents Club membership and make an occasional visit. It’s an informal, off-the-record socializing-and-drinks thing, to give some face to the overseas press corps, diplomats, lawyers and other lowlife that hang out there. It shouldn’t be too onerous – yet the reports here and (with witness accounts in comments section) here suggest that Carrie Lam managed to screw it up.
Hong Kong had just been awarded the 2022 Gay Games. The usual official reaction when the city attracts even the lamest international event is to cheer it as an exciting economic boost and proof of Hong Kong’s world-beating all-round wonderfulness. In this case, Hong Kong beat Washington DC to follow Paris as host, and be the first in Asia – which sounds like a major opportunity to bask in civic glory. Yet Carrie can’t bring herself to welcome the news or commit serious government support.
She is reflecting the local administration’s extreme nervousness over gay rights in recent years. Since a liberalizing trend of the 1990s and 2000s, the official line has hardened against any move towards the obvious next steps of legal equality and same-sex marriage. This is neatly illustrated by the government’s bizarrely pig-headed insistence on appealing a court order to give a spousal visa to an expatriate same-sex couple.
The excuse is that the community is ‘divided’ on the issue. But in day-to-day life, most Hongkongers (as in the earlier decades) are uninterested and even oblivious about fellow citizens’ personal stuff. The Chinese Communist Party does not seem to care greatly about LGBT matters either, although some pro-Beijing groups have started to oppose gay marriage as an alien Western sort-of-pro-democracy idea – apparently to triangulate fundamentalist Christians into the patriotic camp. This may make sense (to relatively friendless pro-Beijing groups), as local hostility to gay rights emanates mainly from the evangelical Protestants.
These are mostly American-style Biblical-literalist cranks, who have somehow permeated Hong Kong circles, including conservative teachers and civil servants, over the last few decades. Carrie, as she explained at the FCC, is a Catholic, but clearly at the strict and obedient end of the spectrum. It has served her well as a blinkered bureaucrat – being good at implementing policy without questioning it.
For good measure, while digging herself into this hole at the FCC, it seems she also found a way to insult RTHK’s English service – while surrounded by some of the channel’s most appreciative listeners.
The whole episode would be partly amusing and partly pitiful, except that she was mixing with the people who keep key overseas audiences informed about Hong Kong. By all accounts, what they saw up close wasn’t impressive and does not bode well for a city suffering growing image problems.