Carrie Lam grilled in Japan on freedom of speech after Victor Mallet visa denial

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Carrie Lam grilled in Japan on freedom of speech after Victor Mallet visa denial

Hong Kong’s leader has assured Japan of the city’s rule of law and freedom of speech, after being bombarded with questions over a political storm associated with a British journalist recently denied a work visa who moderated a talk on independence from China.

During her maiden official visit to the country, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Thursday was grilled by Japanese media about Hong Kong’s rule of law and freedom of speech after the government denied Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet’s work visa following the forum.

Mallet, who left Hong Kong last month, was petitioning against the Hong Kong government’s decision, the chief executive said, pending a review by Lam and her cabinet, the Executive Council.

“Hong Kong is proud of its rule of law and freedom of speech,” Lam said on the sidelines of a trade symposium in Tokyo. She added she had yet to field “a single question” from the business community about the issues.

Asked if the city’s stature had suffered due to a perceived erosion of free speech, Lam replied that the city had been ranked the freest economy in the world by the US think tank The Heritage Foundation for 24 straight years, and No 1 in the category this year by the Canadian think tank The Fraser Institute.

Beijing’s interference ‘main threat to economic freedom in Hong Kong’

“That so many overseas media, especially Japanese media, have been using Hong Kong as a base for reporting is by itself a good indication of the freedom of reporting of journalism in Hong Kong,” she continued. “Hong Kong is vibrant and is not affected by the perception you have read.”

Hong Kong is vibrant and is not affected by the perception you have read
Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Lam is among a group of about 300 delegates from the city aiming to deepen trade ties with Japan.

The five-day mission, themed “Think Global, Think Hong Kong”, marked the first time the city has formally promoted trade in the country since 2012. More than 2,000 people attended the symposium.

The trip took place amid persistent global economic uncertainty surrounding the US-China trade war.

In addition, Lam said, both Hong Kong and Japan were facing challenges arising from climate change and an ageing population.

“Hong Kong’s strengths are in research and development, but mainly in academics,” she explained. “We can learn from Japan, which works closely with the industrial sector to apply their innovation.”

“Japan is a strong partner in IT,” she added, after touring a number of facilities dedicated to innovation, such as the country’s smart city Kashiwa-No-Ha and the University of Tsukuba.

Calling Hong Kong “a latecomer” to IT, Lam described the city as “full of energy” and noted her administration had invested HK$50 billion (US$6.37 billion) to develop the sector.

Hong Kong has been the largest importer of Japanese agricultural and seafood products for more than a decade, a relationship that last year generated US$33.6 billion in revenue.

More than 400 daily flights connect Hong Kong and Japan, links that made their economic and cultural ties close, Lam said.

Denise Tsang is reporting from Tokyo

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