Carrie Lam sworn in as Hong Kong's new leader

The 59-year-old leader was widely seen as Beijing's preferred candidate when she was elected in March.

Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after she swore her oath of office on the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2017. Reuters

Carrie Lam, the fourth Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the first woman in the position, was sworn into office on Saturday morning, alongside her Cabinet members, witnessed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The swearing-in marked the culmination of the lifelong civil servant's career as she inherits a divided city concerned about China's encroaching influence.

The 59-year-old leader was widely seen as Beijing's preferred candidate when she was elected in March by a mainly pro-China committee representing special interest groups, from real estate and agriculture to teaching and medicine, as well as lawmakers.

In her speech, Lam said that Hong Kong's problems could not be resolved overnight. But, she assured that she would strive through a new style of governance to restore social harmony and public trust in the government. Lam also said that she would work towards resolving the city's problems by being innovative, interactive and collaborative.

"I will, as I always have ... firmly take actions in accordance with the law against any acts that will undermine the country's sovereignty, security and development interests," Lam said after she was sworn in along with her cabinet.

However, her critics said she will only further polarise a society riven by mass protests three years ago against Beijing's interference in the affairs of the semi-autonomous city and still divided between those loyal to China and those concerned about its growing influence.

Adding to Lam's speech, Chinese President Xi said: "Hong Kong needs to improve its systems to uphold national sovereignty, security and development interests. It needs to enhance education and raise public awareness of history and culture of the Chinese nation."

"Any attempt to endanger China's sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government ... or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible."

He pledged that the central government will make sure that it is fully implemented "without being bent or distorted". However, he stressed that "one country" is the foundation for the practice of "two systems".

Xi's words were his strongest yet to the city at a time of heightened social and political tensions and concerns over what some in Hong Kong perceive as increased meddling by Beijing in the city's affairs.