Due mostly to her connections to recent protests and Human Rights issues (read about here), Hong Kong's Beijing-loyal leader has become a controversial player in the political world.
Carrie Lam was born in Hong Kong in 1957 into a Catholic working-class family. She graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 1980, where she studied Social Science, and joined the civil service. Two years later she traveled to England to study at the University of Cambridge, where she received a diploma in Development Studies. It was during her time here that she met her mathematician Husband, Lam Siu-por.
After working in various departments and Bureaus, in 2004 she was appointed Director General of Hong Kong's Economic and Trade Office in London, building a real name for herself in the UK and at home. Then in 2007 she she made the move back to Hong Kong, gave up her British Citizenship and civil servant title and became the Secretary for Development.
From then on, she worked her way up through the ranks of the Hong Kong political system. On the 1st of July 2017, after winning 777 out of 1200 votes of the electoral committee, she was sworn in to her current position as Chief Executive of the territory.
Her time in charge has been turbulent, with her tendency to never back down earning her the name the "good/tough fighter" and getting her into many controversial situations. She made headlines with her support for the extradition bill, which sparked the most recent waves of protest in the territory (covered here), and has continued to arouse opposition since. Even after this bill was rescinded, protests against Lam's rule continued, until they were interrupted by the current global pandemic.
The main opposition to her rule stems from domestic and international concerns that she is working towards the removal of all Hong Kong's pro-democracy systems and the hasty reinstatement of Chinese political and cultural authority over the territory.
She backed the national security law that sent shockwaves through Hong Kong and has been the political crisis that keeps on giving. This law allows the persecution, utilising vague terminology, of almost anyone who is seen to be endangering 'national security'. Worries of Chinese abuse of this power in Hong Kong are not without merit, with crack-downs on freedom of speech from day one and now the real threat of government opposition leading to life imprisonment.
Continued use of 'national security' has seen recent uproar. This month we saw the resignation of all pro-democracy law makers in Hong Kong, following Lam's removal of four legislators within their ideological group. They had been deemed a threat by China and were thus ousted from their positions.
To add fuel to the fire, Hong Kong's leaderships have postponed the region's elections by a year. The ruling powers have said this is due to the Covid-19 pandemic as an attempt to avoid spread from in person voting, since Hong Kong doesn't have the infrastructure for remote voting. However, opposition parties believe they are simply using the crisis as an excuse to suppress democratic process.
Lam's actions and reputation led to her addition to a US Treasury Department sanctions list and created the contentious situation in which Lam handed back an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, which she had received upon her appointment to her current position.
Supporters of Lam, which seem few and far between within the media, are almost entirely among pro-establishment parties who advocate a Hong Kong more united with mainland China. These groups and individuals see Lam as a positive force, stripping away the Western norms and values that have been a part of Hong Kong's identity for the last century.
Not only do Lam's actions lend her the support of those who wish for the region to become culturally homogenous with the rest of China, but she stands as an example of an under-dog blooming within Hong Kong. Coming from a low income family she rose through meritocracy to the highest office. In this way her support of Chinese rule demonstrates that the mainland powers reward loyalty and that it is equally possible for women to attain such status within the Chinese system.
However, many within Hong Kong and the rest of the world, see Lam as the personification of China's aggressive policy and ambition within the region and at large. Much of the 'Western' world has condemned the actions taken by Hong Kong leaders in regard to human rights and freedom of speech and Carrie Lam has been the centre of much of that criticism.
According to the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, Lam's support within the region has steadily decreased throughout her time in office, falling by around 10 points from 2017-2020. Trust in the Hong Kong government in July stood at around -35%, demonstrating a clear dissatisfaction within the Hong Kong population when it comes to the actions of their government.
Whilst China stood in clear support of Ms Lam at the end of last year, it is currently unclear where Beijing stands with the Chief Executive.