HONG KONG (SE): In his congratulatory letter to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on being selected as the next chief executive of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon reminded her that basic freedoms are at the guts of the issue of governance.
The bishop of Hong Kong also showed his delight at seeing all three candidates express their ongoing commitment to the city’s wellbeing.
Cardinal Tong sent the letter to Lam on March 28, two-days after she collected the 777 votes from the Election Committee that saw her first across the finish line several furlongs ahead of her two rivals, John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing.
The cardinal’s letter was published in the Sunday Examiner in English and the Kung Kao Po in Chinese on April 2, although it had been released to other media on March 29, after Lam had received the letter.
Lam triumphed on her promise to take political reform forward within the parametres of the 831 decision, a proclamation of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on 31 August 2014 directing the 1,200-strong nominating committee to contain the pack of possible candidates to two or three, as well as supporting the postponed implementation of universal suffrage.
However, Cardinal Tong encouraged Lam to go beyond those parameters, saying, “The Catholic Church, in following the social teachings of successive popes, attaches great importance to the significance of democratic elections in dealing with political matters.”
He then draws her attention to the tiny base that has a vote in the selection of the chief executive, saying that it “is far from being able to achieve a degree of universal participation…”
In saying, “I hope in your term, you can promote the democratic process in Hong Kong in order that the special administrative region will eventually achieve the goal of universal suffrage,” he put himself at odds with the instruction coming down from Beijing.
China’s Global Times, a tabloid publication of the People’s Daily that seeks out public reactions to issues, warned people on the day that the Election Committee was sitting down to go through its process (March 26) not to naïvely think that by copying foreign political formats they can solve chronic problems in Hong Kong.
However, in addressing what is undoubtedly Lam’s strongest point, the cardinal renewed the commitment of the diocese to work with the government in making a preferential option for the poor, but at the same time warned that it will not hold back on calling it into line where it believes the government warrants admonition.
Cardinal Tong also gently touched on the issue of free speech in the territory, saying that in line with the social teaching of the Church, to which as a Catholic Lam is also called to give great heed, the diocese is paying attention to dialogue with many sectors in society and he hopes that her administration will encourage a free airing of views in promoting unity and progress.
In claiming victory, Lam had pledged to work through caring, listening and then taking action, and the cardinal asked her to follow this up by protecting the freedom of religion, including the freedom of expression and pluralism in schools, where it is most at risk, as well as religious beliefs regarding marriage and family values.