June 18, 2018

The ‘Iron Lady’ who wants to lead Hong Kong

22Regina Ip wants to become Hong Kong’s most powerful politician – and she’s not shy about it. The BBC’s Helier Cheung profiles the straight-talking “Iron Lady” as part of a series on the Asian women likely to make the news in 2017.
Her uncompromising stance and her former role as Hong Kong’s first female secretary for security is what prompted the media to nickname 66-year-old Regina Ip the “Iron Lady”.
While many of her likely competitors have been coy about their aspirations, Ms Ip has been openly ambitious for years. But then, she’s always been more colourful – and confrontational – than many politicians.
She has described Hitler as proof that democracy doesn’t solve all problems, accused Filipino domestic workers of being sex workers for foreign men, and brushed off animal rights activists who criticised her for wearing fur, calling it “the same as eating beef”.
She went from being Hong Kong’s most popular government minister to its most reviled, left Hong Kong for the US after a row over national security legislation drove 500,000 to the streets, and then returned to lose, and then win, popular elections.
Now, many opposition politicians have rallied against her bid to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive, saying she would spell “RIP” (a pun on her initials) for Hong Kong.
But, Ms Ip told the BBC her unpopularity with some doesn’t bother her, since she’s “used to criticism” and has been “doing tough and thankless jobs for a long time”.
Pragmatic student
The daughter of a trader and an actress, Ms Ip says her family struggled financially after her father’s business ran into trouble.
She studied English literature at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Glasgow, but despite her love of WB Yeats, she was pragmatic even as a student.
“I wanted to be an academic,” she says, “but academic jobs in that area were very hard to come by.”
So she applied to work in Hong Kong’s civil service, knowing it would provide the “security of tenure and pay well”, and eventually became Hong Kong’s first female director of immigration.
Mass protests
But it is for her role as security minister, where she advocated for Article 23 – a controversial piece of national security legislation – that she is most well known.
Article 23 would have prohibited acts of treason and sedition and given Hong Kong the power to outlaw groups banned in mainland China.
Ms Ip was seen as out of touch when defending the bill. Ahead of a planned protest, Ms Ip said some might join the march for fun because it was a public holiday, rather than because they were actually opposed to the proposal.
In the end, half-a-million protesters rallied in one of the territory’s largest-ever demonstrations.
Many chanted “Broomhead – step down!” – using a nickname Ms Ip had been given after critics mocked her bushy hairstyle.
The government was forced to shelve the bill and Ms Ip resigned as security minister and went abroad to study at Stanford University.
“People remember me for the national security law I championed and failed, but people have forgotten the contributions I made,” she laments.
She admits she “did not do a good enough job” explaining it to the public, but has few regrets. What concerned her more was the impact on her daughter, who was a teenager at the time.
Protesters strung up effigies of Ms Ip and then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa
Ms Ip’s husband died in 1997 and she describes balancing work and home life in the early 2000s as “truly very difficult, because I was a single parent”.
She says her daughter was teased at school, with classmates calling her “little broomstick”.
In the end, she sent her daughter to boarding school in the US, saying it offered a “less controversial environment”, while she herself studied for a Master’s – her third – at Stanford University.

Related posts