Once a month, a government vehicle pulls up outside Government House, the official residence of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), and an official from the Treasury Bureau alights to deliver a case laden with wads of Hong Kong dollar bank notes. Like the godfather of a mafia organization, Lam stockpiles her monthly salary in cash at her home.
This is because Lam, who earns an annual salary of HK$5.2 million (US$667,517) and is one of the world’s highest-paid leaders, has no bank account. After Lam colluded with Beijing to impose a new National Security Law on the territory in June 2020, Washington imposed stringent sanctions, which cut off Lam from the international financial system and forced international banks to close her accounts.
Lam has attempted to paint herself as a victim.
“Sitting in front of you is a chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region] who has no banking services made available to her,” she said in November 2020 in an interview with English-language news channel HKIBC.
“I am using cash for all the things,” Lam said, adding that she has “piles of cash at home.”
The irony seems lost on Lam that her administration has been doing its own fair share of winding up and shutting down of late, bit by bit dismantling the freedoms of the former British colony.
Lam’s administration has used the National Security Law to freeze the assets of Next Digital Ltd, the parent company of Hong Kong’s now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, owned by media proprietor Jimmy Lai (黎智英), currently behind bars for organizing a protest rally. Last month saw the closure of another prominent Chinese-language independent news outlet, Stand News.
This is a big blow for Hong Kong. Stand News was a slick, professionally run online news medium, established by experienced local journalists in the wake of the 2014 “Umbrella movement,” to provide impartial analysis of current affairs in the territory. The site’s entire archive of articles was deleted following a raid of its offices by police, who confiscated computers and files, and detained staff for questioning. All that remains is a stark black page informing visitors to the site of the organization’s closure and thanking readers for their support.
In June last year, Lam’s administration shut down the annual Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil in Victoria Park for a second year in a row, arranging for the detention of its organizer on trumped-up charges. Last month also saw the removal of the Pillar of Shame Tiananmen Square Massacre memorial from the University of Hong Kong in the dead of night.
Lam has also effectively closed down Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and created a “patriots only” rubber-stamping chamber in its place. Last month saw the first selection of lawmakers under the new rules, with candidates vetted for their patriotism and political loyalty to Beijing. All meaningful opposition from a once rambunctious legislature has been removed and the chamber is now stuffed with Beijing loyalists. Most of Hong Kong’s democracy advocates are either in jail, have fled abroad or withdrawn from politics. Lam has presided over the effective shutdown of civil society in Hong Kong.
While Lam counts her piles of cash at home, she might reflect that having sold Hong Kong down the river and sold her soul to the devil. She is now a prisoner in her own home, utterly at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party, and will likely never be able to risk traveling overseas again. Her cash is sure to be good for a holiday in Beijing or Pyongyang, but not much further abroad.
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