Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s policy address drew sharp criticism from lawmakers in both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps.
On Oct. 16, Lam was scheduled to give her address within the city legislature’s chambers, but after she was jeered out of the room by members of the pro-democracy camp, she ended up giving her address via video.
Lawmakers heckled her by shouting “five demands, not one less,” echoing protesters’ demands for the government, which include calls for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police use of force during recent demonstrations.
Her address focused on plans to improve livelihood, including new policies to ease restrictions on housing mortgages; an annual grant for all kindergarten, primary school, and secondary students; an increase to the existing working family allowance; plans to offer more homes for rental and sale; and a public transportation subsidy.
Regarding the current anti-government protests, she condemned those who engaged in violence as “rioters” who were “spreading chaos and fear in Hong Kong and seriously disrupting people’s daily lives.”
Her proposals were quickly challenged for failing to address the larger problems behind ongoing mass protests. Civil Human Rights Front, the main organizer behind some of the biggest protests in the city, issued a statement online, saying that “the best policy is to respond to the five major demands or not having you to govern Hong Kong.”
It added: “We believe that it is highly unrealistic for her to quell public grievances towards police brutality by only pushing out minor repairs to society within her policy address.”
Instead, it called on Lam to step down because public polls showed that her popularity was plunging.
【ARE WE A JOKE TO YOU?】
1. Appalling to see #Carrielam boasting herself to affirm OCTS, human rights & freedoms of HK (they did opposite) & thanking abusive police’s ‘service’. Repeating to curb protests, she should be ashamed for blaming protestors for economic slowdown. pic.twitter.com/kj3Lkv11Pz
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) October 16, 2019
“October 20! We will take to the streets! See you in Tsim Sha Tsui,” it stated, referring to a march that it has planned, to call for the abolition of a recently enacted anti-mask law.
The pro-democracy camp held a press conference after Lam’s address. Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, said it was a shame that Lam blamed the current crisis on the protesters, and asked her to resign to take responsibility for the situation in Hong Kong.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan questioned why Lam thanked the police during her address, since public support for the Hong Kong police force is at an all-time low. In a recent poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Center for Communication and Public Opinion Survey, over 70 percent of respondents said they do not trust the police. Over 68 percent said they wanted a large-scale restructuring of the police force.
Another month of illustration of how Hong Kong Police lose the trust of Hong Kong people in just 4 months.
51.5% have no trust towards police, overall >70% don’t trust the police. https://t.co/RYB8BNvD64
— LO Kin-hei 羅健熙 (@lokinhei) October 16, 2019
Since June, local and international rights groups have also repeatedly condemned Hong Kong police for excessive use of force against protesters and journalists, including most recently by London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch and the Foreign Correspondent Club in Hong Kong.
Another Civic Party lawmaker, Alvin Yeung, said Lam did not show any sincerity in her policy address to mend her relationship with Hongkongers.
Lam was also criticized by lawmakers from the pro-Beijing camp. Starry Lee, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DHB), said Lam’s address was a “procrastinating blueprint with little new ideas,” according to local media RTHK.
At a press conference after her address, Lam criticized the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously on Oct. 15. The bill—which allows the U.S. administration to evaluate whether to continue giving Hong Kong special trading privileges—needs to pass the Senate and be approved by the president before it becomes law.
Lam said the U.S. legislation was “totally unjustified and unwarranted,” and that it will hurt both Hong Kong businesses and U.S. interests.
Earlier in the morning on Oct. 16, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang also criticized the U.S. lawmakers, saying it was their “malicious intention to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity.” Geng then threatened that if the bill became law, China would retaliate with “strong countermeasures.”
Lam also seemed unconcerned about the criticisms of her administration. When asked by a reporter about people’s views that her policy address failed to address the central issues driving current protests, such as Beijing’s erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms, Lam responded by saying, “I do not agree or submit to the view that Hong Kong’s rights and liberties and freedom have been eroded in whatsoever way.”
She added that while her address may not contain all the “political solutions,” she was committed to engaging the public through her proposed dialogue platform. She added that she will hold a Facebook live Q&A session to hear people’s opinions on her address on Oct. 17.
Over 4,100 people have left a message on Lam’s Facebook announcement, many of them posting the simple phrase, “five demands, not one less.”
Lam also said that she would not “concede” to the demand of amnesty for arrested protesters, since it would violate rule of law.
As for the demand for universal suffrage, Lam suggested that because reforms must be done according to the city’s constitution, the Basic Law, she could not agree to universal suffrage outright.