Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying conceded that property prices and rentals remained unaffordable for most people in Hong Kong and announced a raft of economic reforms as part of his fourth annual policy address Wednesday. Leung’s speech was interrupted by at least four lawmakers protesting the government’s silence over the disappearance of five booksellers since late last year.
Amid growing skepticism about his rule among Hong Kong residents, Leung rolled out initiatives for the remaining 18 months of his term. Leung’s plan focused mainly on reforms such as better working hours and education, but pinned the city’s growth to Beijing's "One Belt, One Road" initiative — a policy that aims to strengthen trade between countries along the ancient silk road and a new “maritime silk road.”
Leung, who started a five-year term as chief executive in 2012, said that Hong Kong would play a significant role in promoting the new "silk road" spreading from Western China to Central Asia and Europe.
The chief executive mentioned "One Belt, One Road" 37 times in his speech, as irate Hong Kong residents took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s response to more pressing problems such as pricey housing and China’s growing influence on Hong Kong.
CY should work harder in remaining term to realise election promises instead of putting forward grand new ideas in #policyaddress :JamesTien
— Jeffie Lam (@jeffielam) January 13, 2016
Leung’s popularity hit a record low since he came to office, poll results released Tuesday by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Program showed.
"If you live in private units, rents are so high that it can eat up 75 percent of your income. We don't see any improvement on this and we can't expect anything from Leung because supply has gone down, waiting times [for public flats] have increased and wages haven't improved," Lee Cheuk-Yan, Legislative Council member and vice-chairman of the opposition Labor Party, told CNBC.
Four lawmakers were escorted out of the legislative chambers during the speech for protesting the disappearance of five booksellers associated with Causeway Bay Books, which specializes in publishing material critical of the Communist Party of China. Many Hong Kong book vendors started pulling politically sensitive titles off their shelves last week fearing backlash from China. Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, operates under the "one country, two systems" policy that grants it autonomy and freedom from certain laws that govern the mainland.
On the welfare front, Leung declared that the government would work to provide free kindergarten services to residents and pledged scholarships for students from countries under the purview of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative. The leader also promised to develop more housing projects in the next five years to ease the demand in the city, which boasts of some of the highest property prices in the world.