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Hong Kong govt struggling to mend city’s image as global PR firms decline invitation to collaborate in the wake of ongoing unrest

The government of Hong Kong is struggling to mend the city’s image as a world-renowned financial and tourism hub, as global PR firms have declined its invitation to collaborate in the wake of escalating political unrest.

In a transcript of a talk at the end of last month, which was published by Reuters last week, Lam reportedly disclosed to a group of businesspeople that while she was “not aware” of “that 120-page document”, she noted that the Hong Kong government’s information services had invited eight public relations (PR) companies to collaborate with the government in “relaunching Hong Kong”.

Four of said companies, however, “immediately declined”, as supporting the Hong Kong government would presumably “be a detriment to their reputation”. Two other companies later also turned down the government’s invitation.

Lam said only two remaining companies appeared to be willing to engage with the government.

“I’m happy to meet with these two remaining personally, to see what advice they have, but their advice will only be more relevant after we have gone through this period,” she said.

The Guardian reported today (17 Sep) that as of now, all of the companies have declined to work with the Hong Kong government.

The city’s government information services department told The Guardian in response to queries that “no bid was received by the close of the quotation period”, and that it “has no immediate plan to conduct a procurement exercise of a similar nature” after the previous one had lapsed.

Lam’s revelation came in response to a suggestion from the audience related to the Hong Kong government’s PR efforts.

“When the time comes, now Hong Kong has survived the death pronounced by some people before 1997. At this point in time, although I’m actually pessimistic, but Hong Kong is not dead yet. Maybe she is very, very sick but she is not dead yet. We still have fundamentals here, we still have the nation behind us,” she maintained.

Lam said that Hong Kong at this point has to go through several stages, including the stamping out of violence by “maybe doing other things in time to come which at the moment are not very available” before the city gets a new lease of life.

“Having gone through this stage, the next stage will be, in accordance with the Bible, would be resurrection. We will need to come back to life, some life.

“So thereafter we want a reborn Hong Kong and a relaunching of this Hong Kong brand,” she added.

In a press briefing today, Lam revealed that she had been advised that “the time is not right” to give Hong Kong’s image a makeover.

However, she insisted that the city’s fundamentals “remain very strong”, The Guardian reported.

“The time will come for us to launch a major campaign to restore some of the damage done to Hong Kong’s reputation,” said Lam.

The Chief Executive also expressed her disagreement with credit rating agency Moody’s assessment of Hong Kong’s outlook, which had gone down from stable to negative this week.

Lam, however, accepted that “violent acts” in the ongoing protests would “inevitably undermine and affect the international perception of Hong Kong’s business environment”.

Senior public relations consultant and Lam’s former PR adviser Andy Ho told The Guardian that PR campaigns will not be effective in rebuilding Hong Kong’s image in the absence of concrete actions by the government to address public grievances.

Protestors who engaged in violence need to be arrested, prosecuted to reduce numbers and scale of damage: Carrie Lam

Lam also said during her talk in late Aug that in the wake of “escalated violence to the degree of being insane”, based on video recordings of alleged attacks against policemen that have been broadcast on television, the Hong Kong government is under pressure to tackle such violence by arresting protestors who engage in such violence, especially after attempts to have dialogues with them have failed.

“[T]he rule of law requires law enforcement, so we have to tackle this escalating violence by arresting those offenders and then put them through the justice system, whether it’s prosecution by the Department of Justice in an impartial manner without any interference from myself or from the Central People’s government, and then finally in the courts.

“With a little bit of hope, that may help, because we are seeing the numbers reducing. We started off by an estimate of about one to two thousand protesters who are very violent. Or put it that way, they are very willing to resort to violence.

“They may not be violent by nature but they are very willing to resort to violence, so, as described by one expert, this is the sort of early signs of anarchism – that they don’t trust the establishment, they don’t mind destroying things even if they don’t know what destruction will bring,” according to Lam.

Chief Executive “has to serve two masters by constitution”, little room for political manoeuvring: Carrie Lam

Lam maintained that while she was not “instructed” or “coerced” by the central government to express such sentiments, she maintained that there is “very, very, very limited” room for her as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to manoeuvre the political situation swiftly.

Noting that she has to serve “two masters by constitution, that is the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong”, Lam added that the Hong Kong government is not “trained to have that sort of national perspectives”, and that she could only gauge the current situation and sentiments in Hong Kong from her own perspective.

“In less than three months’ time, Hong Kong has been turned upside down, and my life has been turned upside down … I have not been on the streets, not in the shopping malls, can’t go to a hair salon, can’t do anything because my whereabouts will be spread around the social media, the Telegram, the LIHKG, and you could expect a big crowd of black T-shirts and black-masked young people waiting for me.

“I don’t want to spend your time, or waste your time, for you to ask me what went wrong, and why it went wrong. But for a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. It’s just unforgivable.

“If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit – having made a deep apology – is to step down. So I make a plea to you for your forgiveness,” she said, adding that she and her government “were not sensitive enough” to adequately assess “huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-a-vis the mainland of China”, which has been “exaggerated and misrepresented through very effective propaganda”.

Entering their fourth month, the protests that swept across Hong Kong arose out of concerns over the scope of powers that will be granted upon certain jurisdictions Hong Kong decides to extradite crime suspects to – particularly mainland China – should a controversial extradition Bill be passed, as certain factions remain sceptical of Beijing’s capacity to refrain from abusing the extradition arrangements.

Lam has since announced the formal withdrawal of the Bill earlier this month, in a move that critics have branded as a measure that was rolled out too late, given how the scope of protests have transcended the aim of opposing the Bill and have gone into demanding further democratic reforms on a larger scale.