ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: March 01, 2017 11:27 AM GMT
Former chief secretary and chief executive election candidate Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Feb. 27. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Christians in Hong Kong are concerned that the religious policies of the early favorite in the race to become the city's next chief executive resemble those used to control religions in mainland China.
Alarm bells were raised following the release of the details of former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's election manifesto that included a suggestion to examine the possibility of setting up a special unit to be responsible for coordinating relevant religion policies.
As part of her 47-page screed, Lam's religious policy includes a suggestion to examine the possibility of setting up a "Religious Affairs Unit" under the Home Affairs Bureau to be responsible for coordinating relevant policies.
Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, questioned whether Lam is attempting to introduce the Chinese Communist Party's model of "religious affairs" in Hong Kong.
"Once the government introduces the concept of religious affairs, setting up the unit with the so-called religious policy, Hong Kong will be on convergence with China," Ying wrote on his Facebook Feb. 27.
Lam, a practicing Catholic, is the only candidate in the Chief Executive election to propose a religious policy.
Lam's manifesto was released a before day she handed in her nomination on Feb. 28 which led to some electors from the religious sector complaining that they were not informed about her policy when she met with them earlier.
Leo Yip, a Catholic elector, admitted that when they met Lam on Feb. 11 — the same day she also met with Protestant electors — she did not disclose any religious policy.
"We just learnt about it from her manifesto. We, an [informal] group of seven to eight Catholic electors, have to call a meeting for further discussion," Yip told ucanews.com.
Nine Protestant electors who did not nominate Lam also issued a statement on March 1, stating their concern of her religious policies and demanded Lam to clarify her idea in concrete terms.
Lina Chan, secretary general of Hong Kong diocese's Justice and Peace Commission, told ucanews.com that what Lam is proposing in her manifesto is unclear.
"We feel worry as Lam does not explain clearly or elaborate her religious policy," said Chan.
"We see the Regulations on Religious Affairs in mainland China and it is not just about religious management but also about national security and stability of the state," she said.
Critics likewise point out that there are already relevant laws and regulations for the religious sector as per civil organizations, such as the Societies Ordinance. From this Chan doubted if it is necessary to have a specific policy to manage religions.
Reverend Yuen Tin-yau of the Methodist Church recalled that in 1986 there was a debate on whether a religious policy should be included into the Basic Law of Hong Kong before the colonial city reunited with China. However, it met with opposition since the "religious policy" as used by the Communist Party of China is mainly about control.
Lam along with John Tsang, the former Financial Secretary and Woo Kwok-hing, a retired judge, have officially been confirmed as the three candidates for the fifth Chief Executive election to be held on March 26.
Regina Ip, another potential candidate, announced that she was dropping out from the election race after failing to garner the minimum 150 nominations by the March 1 deadline.
Lam, a regular churchgoer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, got 580 nominations out of 1,200 electors of the Election Committee. None of them were from pro-democratic electors.
In the religious sector, with 60 seats evenly shared by six major religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism — Lam received 38 of them.
However, she got only one nomination from a Protestant elector and none from Catholic electors.
On the same day when she announced joining the election bid on Jan. 12, she reportedly told an internal government seminar that her decision to run was "God's call." However, her remarks aroused criticism among Christians for using God's name for her own advantage.
In contrast, Tsang, a lapsed Catholic, got three Catholic electors' nominations and Woo got one.
According to government statistics, around 30 percent of the 7.37 million population in Hong Kong are believers of different religions. There are 590,000 Chinese and foreign Catholics here, according to latest statistics from Hong Kong diocese.