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Embattled Hong Kong leader unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Embattled Hong Kong leader unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seen on a screen as she reacts to protests by pro-democracy lawmakers at the Legislative Council on Oct 16, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage on Wednesday (Oct 16) as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of anti-government protests.

Lam had earlier been forced to abort her annual policy address after some lawmakers jeered as she began speaking, causing an unprecedented cancellation of the speech in the legislature of the Chinese-ruled city.

The Beijing-backed Lam later gave her speech over a video feed, saying her government would drastically increase the number of housing projects and accelerate the sale of public housing schemes.

READ: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam aborts policy speech as lawmakers disrupt session

Anger over sky-high property prices, especially among the young, is widely believed to have fuelled the at times violent protests that have rocked the city for months.

Lam, who has rejected calls to step down, said about 700 hectares of private land in the city's New Territories would be brought back into public use under what is known as a land resumption ordinance.

More than half of the allocated land would be taken back in the next few years, she said, adding that a further 450 hectares had been earmarked for "resumption".

The measures are among the boldest in recent years to take back large tracts of land held by a handful of powerful developers.

"We are determined to create home ownership opportunities for people of different income groups such that they will happily make Hong Kong their home," Lam said.

"I hereby set a clear objective that every Hong Kong citizen and his family will no longer have to be troubled by or pre-occupied with the housing problem, and that they will be able to have their own home in Hong Kong."

Major developers, including Henderson Land, New World Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties, are sitting on “no less than 1,000 hectares” of agricultural land, according to government estimates.

Lam urged all developers to support the land ordinance. No further details were given as to how the process would work and which developers would be involved.

Commentary: Out of reach? The unaffordability of housing fuelling the Hong Kong protests

READ: Frustration of surviving pricey Hong Kong stirs protest anger

The Hong Kong stock exchange's property sub-index rose more than 2 per cent after the measures were announced.

Before Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the colonial administration often deployed the ordinance to take property for public use, offering compensation to landowners.


Lam said in her pre-recorded speech that her government will continue to uphold the "one country, two systems" formula.

Any acts that advocate Hong Kong’s independence and threaten the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests will not be tolerated, she said.  

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives to deliver her annual policy address, as lawmakers shout protests, at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

"In the 22 years since Hong Kong returned to the motherland, 'one country, two systems' has proven to be the best system for ensuring the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong," Lam said.

As long as Hong Kong adheres to this principle, it will be able to "get out of the impasse", she added.

Lam also spoke about the impact of more than 400 protests in the past four months on the city, saying more than 1,100 people have been injured and 2,200 arrested.

The continued violence and spread of hatred will damage the city's core values, she said.

"People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?  Is Hong Kong still a place we can live in peace?"

Ending her address on a positive note, Lam said the city faced its "most formidable challenge" since 1997, but by restoring law and order, it would "emerge from the storm and embrace the rainbow". 

READ: 'You don’t know what you are doing': Hong Kong’s older generation hits back as protests turn violent

READ: 'Hong Kong has no future like this': Singaporeans living in Hong Kong share their concerns about escalating protests


Earlier, pro-democracy lawmakers shouted "five demands, not one less" as they heckled Lam, who faces immense pressure to regain trust and resolve the city's biggest political crisis in decades, in a disruption that forced the meeting to be adjourned twice.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam prepares to deliver her speech as slogans which read "Five demands, not one less" are projected on the wall of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Oct 16, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

The dissenting legislators managed to project the call for "five demands, not one less", which has become one of the protest movement's rallying cry, onto a backdrop behind Lam as she tried to deliver her speech.

The demands include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into what they say has been excessive force by police in dealing with demonstrations.

Some of the protesting lawmakers wore masks of Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the chamber.

A pro-democracy lawmaker wears a mask of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they shout a slogan while Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gives a speech at chamber of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo: AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

READ: US House passes legislation taking hard line on China over Hong Kong, Huawei

Lam was speaking hours after the US House of Representatives passed three pieces of legislation related to the Hong Kong protests, drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing, which accused the lawmakers of "sinister intentions" of undermining stability in the Asian financial hub.

One of the measures, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would require the US secretary of state to certify every year that Hong Kong retained its autonomy in order to keep receiving the special treatment that has allowed it to be a major financial centre.

Lam has ruled out making any concessions to the protesters in the face of escalating unrest, saying: "Violence would only breed more violence." 

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Reuters/cy


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