The top administrative official in the Hong Kong government attended a symposium in Tokyo on Thursday during her first official visit to Japan, to promote the special Chinese region as a global business hub and a gateway for Japanese firms to advance into mainland China as well as other Asian markets.
Facing Japanese reporters on the sidelines of the event, Carrie Lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong government, sought to brush aside recent concerns over press and speech freedoms in Hong Kong under the growing influence of Beijing.
“We are really seeing very robust rule of law in Hong Kong and the independence of judiciary, as well as freedom and rights enshrined under the Basic Law,” Lam told reporters in Tokyo, referring to Hong Kong’s constitutional document.
“I think we should all look at facts and evidence in substantiating your concerns,” she insisted.
Last month, the Hong Kong government rejected a visa renewal application from Victor Mallet, a veteran editor at the Financial Times, after he chaired a discussion event in which the leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party participated.
The move fueled concern that freedom of press and speech is being increasingly undermined in Hong Kong under China’s apparently growing influence over the region’s government. Unlike other Chinese cities, Hong Kong — a former British territory handed to China in 1997 — is supposed to enjoy a high-level of autonomy under Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy, which includes freedom of speech and press.
But alleged abductions of the owner and workers of a book store in Hong Kong by Chinese authorities in 2015 have raised serious doubts over the integrity of the policy.
Lam, who was on the fourth day of her five-day trip to Japan, pointed out that the number of overseas companies based in Hong Kong had continued to increase this year to exceed 8,700, including 1,393 Japanese firms. She also said many overseas media outlets are based in Hong Kong, and cover the city, China and other parts of Asia.
The U.S.-based Heritage Foundation has ranked Hong Kong as the world’s No. 1 economy in terms of economic freedom for 24 consecutive years, she pointed out.
“But when it comes to perception, sometimes the situation is not entirely within our control,” Lam added.
Asked why the visa renewal was rejected, Lam declined to comment, saying only that every government has its own immigration policy and that, in general, the government is not supposed to comment on decisions in individual visa cases.
She added that the journalist in question has filed a petition, and that she and the Executive Council of Hong Kong are now deliberating on it.
Thursday’s symposium drew about 2,400 people interested in business in Hong Kong and mainland China.
At the outset of the event, Yoshihiro Seki, vice minister of trade and industry of Japan, praised Hong Kong as an important business partner for this nation, with the city having been the No. 1 export destination of Japanese food and agricultural food products for 13 years in a row.
“I feel very positive about further strengthening the relations between Hong Kong and Japan and look forward to working together to bring more prosperity to our people,” Lam said a speech she delivered during the symposium.
“I’m pleased to see my official visit taking place shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s very successful visit to China,” she also said.
“As one of the world’s leading financial centers and one at the heart to Asia, Hong Kong is determined to be the Belt and Road financial engine room,” Lam said, referring to Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to link countries across Asia, Africa and Europe by building various infrastructures such as ports and railroads.