Christine Loh: goody or baddie?

A much debated question. To some, deputy environment minister Christine Loh is a turncoat who has betrayed the democratic cause by joining the administration. To others, she is at least trying to get things done, even if the system makes it near impossible.

A quick look at her track record shows two things: she is ambitious; and she is dedicated to reforming Hong Kong’s approach to the environment (in the broadest sense from planning to sustainability to pollution control to aesthetics) and other areas. Following legal training (some in China) and working in the financial markets, her career has been in three stages.

She served as a popular legislator, starting up her own party. Despite getting the first and ChristineLohonly ever private member’s bill through (on harbour protection), she felt she could achieve more elsewhere. She played a part in founding several NGOs, notably Civic Exchange – Hong Kong’s only serious think-tank on public policy – and did some writing and broadcasting. She took the deputy environment minister job in CY Leung’s administration in 2012; that government has since become immensely divisive and hated as an almost-reactionary regime implementing the Chinese leadership’s harsh approach to local political reform and dissent.

For years, the word was that Christine had no chance of winning Beijing’s approval to join the executive branch, on account of ‘foreign links’ and independent-mindedness. Among her suspect past activities are involvement in human rights and writing a book on the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong. She is also hated by the pro-Beijing New Territories forces for demanding equal land-inheritance rights for women.

Despite this, she was never wholly part of the pro-democracy camp. The main difference is that, unlike most of the pan-dem movement, she is interested in policy. In other words, she is a real politician – someone who wants to change the world for the better and has the vision/arrogance to think she knows how to do it. The other pan-dems of her generation fight for universal suffrage but wouldn’t know what to with it if they had it.

In short, she wants to change the system by working within it rather than fighting it. If you could prove that Hong Kong’s opposition – pro-dems, moderates, progressives, reformists, liberals and activists – would enjoy more success had she stayed in their ranks, you could call her a traitor for undermining the movement. But this is hard to believe. We have enough opposition figures being shunned by officials, demonized by the pro-government media and smeared by Beijing’s propagandists.

Critics will say that Christine is a disgrace for not speaking out (in other words, resigning) against the intimidation and the threats to law and freedom we are now seeing. They might also complain that she legitimizes the administration, giving it a liberal and human face it doesn’t warrant. But this goes for a lot of other officials from the Chief Secretary down who seem uneasy about Hong Kong’s drift to authoritarianism. They also stay, out of duty or perhaps fear that a hardcore patriot would replace them.

At some point she would have to draw a line and quit: if they make her dress up in an Army Cadet uniform, perhaps, or if the PLA start shooting students. Meanwhile, the only hope of getting anything done, let alone one day rising to a higher position, is to play it by the book and keep her head down. (Her lack of practical achievement in, say, cleaning the air is sadly inevitable given the bureaucratic and corporate interests at play – that is the system she no doubt wants to change.)

It’s distasteful. But politics is dirty that way. Meanwhile, the ones who stay noble and pure ponder their next futile gesture.

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21 Responses to Christine Loh: goody or baddie?

  1. Stephen says:

    It would be nice to think that after serving under this divisive, unpopular administration she has burnished her credentials with those who control the levers of power enough to give her a shot at Chief Executive. That she is competent is not in dispute. But being competent is not the CCP’s criteria for the top job – as we have sadly seen with the lamentable Tung and the authoritarian CY.

    So she’s not in with a shot in 2017, when she will be 61, what is she doing ? Is it about making a difference on our air (quality) or money ? It’s definitely not the latter and I’m not wholly convinced on the former. Her Civic Exchange made a pact with the devil and started receiving cash from CLP. In exchange the Civic Exchange stopped criticizing Hong Kong’s biggest polluter. However if she is able to make a difference on air quality she will have mine and most of Hong Kong’s eternal gratitude even if I cannot stand living here anymore due to that twat currently residing in Upper Albert Road.

  2. Scotty Dotty says:

    Good summary on Christine.

    I still think she’s a good ‘un but we won’t really know what’s happened until Christine resigns. Then, we’ll either get a clearing of the air that the government/CLP/the Dark Side offered real action in return for engagement (ie, silent kowtow) or we’ll get nothing. If nothing surfaces when Christine resigns then it will be clear, she’s drifted from the sensible to slime.

  3. Flip-Flopper says:

    Bought and paid for. Does next to nothing. According to Bloomberg, her last ‘press release’ (an email dated January 23) concerned the glorious news that EPD had set up two (count ’em!) air quality monitoring points for the Standard Chartered Marathon. What a relief!

    “I wrote a memo and then went to lunch [for a few weeks …]”

    Idling engines? Idling bureaucrats are the bigger problem.

  4. Cassowary says:

    We’re supposed to get marine fuel switching legislation, soonish. Which will help. Ish. A big part of the problem is that the EPD only controls the stuff that comes out of chimneys and tailpipes. They can’t halt the rising tide of private vehicles or replan the districts to eliminate the street canyon effect. Supposedly the Planning Department is starting to get a clue, but Transport is hopeless. They’re stuck in 1960s “cars go vroom fast screw pedestrians build MOAR ROADS vroom” mode.

  5. Maugrim says:

    I thought she was great and like you, am happy to judge her by her recent achievements, which unfortunately, aren’t stellar.

  6. gumshoe says:

    I heard car street license taxes are going up by almost 100% in a few months, maybe that will help? Doubt it.

  7. Henry says:

    The world has been changed by what at the time appeared to be futile gestures.

  8. Brob says:

    I believe in “goody” still. Better than anyone else!

  9. PCC says:

    Ms. Loh’s limited impact on those matters falling within her brief is disappointing. Nevertheless, Mr. Hemlock has penned a fair summary of Ms. Loh’s predicament and the difficulties she has undoubtedly encountered in trying to “make a difference”.

  10. NIMBY says:

    Well written, and as to a few grumblers one finds in meat space, try the query: What is exactly that have you done for HK?

  11. Cassowary says:

    Many parallels with Obama here. He’s gone from Mr. Hope and Change to President of Bank Bailouts and Torture. Anybody who wields power must compromise their principles. If they weren’t willing to do so, they wouldn’t have sought power in the first place. Obama made a deal with the insurance companies to give them a cut of health reform; Loh made a deal with the transport sector to bribe them to pollute less.

    The real disappointment that Loh didn’t even get much power out of the deal. They’re probably yes ministering her and K.S. Wong to death in there, plus she gets to have such lovely colleagues like Paul “Pave the Parks” Chan. Loh gets to plug a few smokestacks while the construction pouring lobby continues to run rampant.

  12. Hermes says:

    @ Nimby, that’s not really the point. Loh is paid handsomely to ‘do something for HK’ – around $220,000 a month, I believe.

    I used to like Christine until I sent her an email when she was at Civic Exchange about the issue of work-life balance, which she was supposedly championing at the time. She never replied and I became disillusioned with her.

    Love this week’s banner, BTW.

  13. Scotty Dotty is a slime-ball for suggesting that my hero Christine may “drift from sensible to slime.” Everyone knows she’s the only politician with brains in this town. In my book she’s never put a foot wrong, even when she was threatened with rape some years ago by those New Territories cretins when she called for equal land inheritance rights for women. She may be a bit of a female Don Quixote but she’d make a great CE for Hong Kong (which Beijing will ensure won’t happen ). I’d nominate her for UN Secretary General any day.

  14. Scotty Dotty says:

    @ celeste

    I did not say Christine WAS slime.

    I was, and still am more or less, a fan of The Hong Kong Christine Project. (With those 1930s goggles what’s not to love 🙂 )

    However, my point is that Christine, whatever the green and democratic positives, has drifted off piste lately. Only when she resigns (as she will) will it be clear what explains these actions: calculated arm twisting or sell-your-soul.

    Fair comment, I hope you agree.

  15. Cassowary says:

    Her campaign for women’s land rights was strategic, not ideological. She opposed the small house policy to begin with. She didn’t think any NT villagers should be allowed to build houses all over the countryside just because their ancestors predated the British. But she knew there wasn’t enough land for all the claimants. So what to do? Double the number of potential claimants to force the government to end the policy once and for all.

    She has always been a smooth operator and a strategic thinker. That’s what sets her apart from the other democrats.

  16. Cassowary says:

    And on that note, that’s what I like about her. Anyone with a mind like that could easily use their powers for evil. But she chose to use them for good. I would be quite happy if she became CE because she might be the only politician in Hong Kong with a snowball’s chance of outwitting Beijing.

    But that is precisely why they’ll appoint some safe non-entity.

  17. Des Espoir says:

    She was caught red-handed a few years ago championing the Sokos Island gas terminal …. The protagonists and major benfactors were CLP and Exxon, and Ms Loh just “forgot” to mention that CLP and Exxon were the major sponsors of her Civic exchange, and to declare her interest….

  18. reductio says:

    Fair and balanced opinions. Reasoned and respectful replies. No stupid comments form people like …er…. me. What’s happening to the BL Comments Section?

  19. NIMBY says:

    OMG, she didn’t answer an unsolicited email, burn the witch.

  20. NIMBY says:

    Oh, Hemlock, think the environment is bad now, according to the hard data Dr. Gayle Hagler presented in June 2013, things would be much, much worse without Christine’s active work both here and over the boarder. Frankly if Hong Kong had zero emissions, we’d still be way above WHO standards. Christine’s one of those individuals, rare individuals, who can extract action from the other side of the boarder, rather than just being on the receiving end of marching orders.

  21. LRE says:

    If Christine is indeed a pragmatist rather than a sell out, then by definition she has to be judged on results alone, rather than her intentions, because she’s comprising her lofty ideals in order to get stuff done.

    And there’s the rub — because frankly in terms of the environment, air quality and so forth, the only actual measurable progress in improving the air quality I’ve witnessed in Hong Kong has ironically been due to those noble and pure students’ futile gesture of occupying Admiralty.

    By contrast, Ms. Loh’s much-vaunted good intentions are probably now just paving the Hong Kong/Zhuhai/Macau bridge. For any other measures have been amateurish greenwashing of business as usual and handwringing to rival the greatest Taiqi masters over any real problems with real solutions that might affect business as usual. So it goes.

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