HONG KONG – Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying warned pro-democracy demonstrators on Wednesday that they risked bringing “anarchy” to the financial hub, as he sought to bolster his support in his first policy address since protests rocked the city last year.
The annual policy blueprint has been a key platform for leaders in the Chinese-controlled city to hand out billions to the less-advantaged in the form of tax breaks, or to signal shifts in economic, property and political policies.
But even before Leung delivered his speech in the legislature, opposition lawmakers called on him to step down while holding up banners demanding full democracy. Some walked out of the chamber holding up yellow umbrellas — instantly recognizable as symbols of the unprecedented protests last year.
“As we pursue democracy, we should act in accordance with the law, or Hong Kong will degenerate into anarchy,” Leung, dressed in a dark suit and sky-blue tie, told city legislators in his speech.
The former British colony returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that gives it some autonomy from the mainland and a promise of eventual universal suffrage. Beijing has allowed a free vote for city leader in 2017, but insists that candidates for the post must be screened by a Beijing-linked panel.
Protesters demanding full democracy occupied key parts of the city for more than two months late last year with Leung himself a target of their anger.
He must now try to boost his ratings among a population that knows that, under Beijing’s watchful gaze, he is unable to offer anything significant in the way of democratic reform.
At the same time he must also perform a balancing act by healing divisions, maintaining strong ties with China’s Communist Party, on which Hong Kong’s economy overwhelmingly depends, and ensuring that the city’s economy, which is expected to grow by approximately 2.2 percent this year, remains on a steady keel.
In a speech devoid of major initiatives, Leung focused on bread-and-butter issues including housing, a perennially important topic in Hong Kong, and said he would seek to further boost the supply of land to improve affordability in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.
“Increasing and expediting land supply is the fundamental solution to resolve the land and housing problems of Hong Kong,” he said.
Leung, however, gave no specifics amid speculation that the government may seek to open up parks to limited development; a move likely to infuriate environmentalists.
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