On Oct 16, 2019, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor visited the Legislative Council to deliver her third Policy Address, mayhem erupted. As soon as she took her place at the lectern, so-called “pro-democracy” lawmakers brandished offensive photographs, shouted insults, and played audio clips of screaming protesters. After two failed attempts to give her speech, Lam withdrew, and later delivered it by video from another location.
Apart from anything else, the behavior of the legislators that day showed how unfit they were to hold public office, and the weaknesses in the city’s democratic experiment were vividly exposed. Having unashamedly aligned themselves with the black-clad fanatics who had trashed LegCo on July 1, and who brought death and destruction to the streets, they brazenly turned an occasion of great importance for the city’s governance into a farce. Although they interrupted Lam’s address, she has now had the last laugh.
The culprits are now unseated, and some have fled abroad to the welcoming embrace of the Western governments who gave them every encouragement, and still hope to make use of them. Some have been imprisoned for criminal law violations, while others face trial for national security offenses. One way or another, they are yesterday’s men and women, and the combined impact of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the electoral reforms will ensure their poisonous brand of politics is forever consigned to the dustbin of history.
With the return of civility, it was clear that the city’s politics is back on track and working in its best interests
When, therefore, on Wednesday, Lam delivered her fifth Policy Address, the theme of which was “new era, new opportunities”, she was heard with the decorous attention to be expected of any responsible legislature. With the return of civility, it was clear that the city’s politics is back on track and working in its best interests. In her 140-minute address, Lam provided her vision for Hong Kong, and this was buttressed by practical policies to help its people and provide a better future.
As expected, Lam’s address focused on issues requiring urgent attention, as well as on long-term objectives. Housing, of course, is a perennial concern, and there have been calls for the elimination of “cage homes” and tiny subdivided flats by 2049. She has heard these calls, and her plans include increasing land and housing supplies by, for example, making it easier for New Territories villagers to sell ancestral land for homebuilding, and releasing wetlands and abandoned farmland near the border for mixed development. MTR Corp, moreover, will make available 170 hectares for building private sector homes over the next decade.
Central to Lam’s development program is the new metropolis in the New Territories. Its full development will result in at least 905,000 housing units, capable of accommodating 2.5 million people. But the metropolis also has huge implications beyond housing, and Lam explained that it will be “the most important area in Hong Kong that facilitates our development integration with Shenzhen and connection with the Greater Bay Area”. This, of course, will be job-creating and will spur economic development across southern China, as envisaged by the nation’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).
The Five-Year Plan, moreover, recognizes the value of economic integration, and Lam’s address acknowledged how Hong Kong’s future success is inextricably linked to the opportunities now opening up in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In particular, the eightfold expansion of the Qianhai economic zone in Shenzhen provides huge openings for everybody in Hong Kong, including high-tech professionals, financiers and lawyers, and the proposed rail link from the northern New Territories to Qianhai will help to provide the necessary connectivity.
Although, as Lam pointed out, some foreign powers have tried to harm Hong Kong over the past 18 months, thousands of foreign businesses are still here, recognizing its unique positioning as China develops its full potential. The city will, of course, be playing its full part going forward, and she outlined her plans for a mega tech hub of 540 hectares at the Lok Ma Chau Loop, as well as for upgraded ports, which will include a “smart port” network.
As Hong Kong’s success has always been underpinned by the rule of law, the measures Lam announced to enhance its legal prowess were also welcome
As Hong Kong’s success has always been underpinned by the rule of law, the measures Lam announced to enhance its legal prowess were also welcome. Apart from developing the city as a center for international legal and dispute resolution services, education on constitutional and national security issues will be strengthened, and efforts will be made to attract legal talent, for example by relaxing the qualification requirements for handling international commercial disputes and clarifying the supporting documents required for transactional lawyers.
As, moreover, fair trials and due process are essential for criminal suspects, Lam also announced that an extra mega courtroom will be created at Wanchai Tower, to facilitate multi-defendant trials. This new court will help to tide the judiciary over until the new District Court is available, as also will the reopening, on Monday, of the Tsuen Wan Law Courts Building, to handle cases not related to the social unrest.
Lam’s announcement that a new post of commissioner for children is to be created will be warmly received by everyone concerned with child welfare. Children are being underserved in numerous areas and often face great dangers, and anything that can be done to expedite the reforms which are so urgently required should be applauded. In particular, the mandatory reporting of child abuse, which is often the precursor of serious injury and even death, must now be given the very highest priority.
By also referencing the Basic Law’s Article 23, Lam realized that further delays in implementing the outstanding national security laws cannot be countenanced. When the National Security Law for Hong Kong was enacted in 2020, the central authorities adopted a minimalist approach, only adopting legislation which was immediately required to end the insurrection and protect the country. It remains the responsibility of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to enact laws covering sedition, treason, and theft of State secrets. Only when this is done will the final nail have been hammered into the coffin of the anti-China forces that tried so hard to destroy the “one country, two systems” policy in 2019-20.
By any yardstick, therefore, this was an impressive address, combining vision with concrete measures. Although Hong Kong has been through some very difficult times, Lam has shown great resilience and remained focused on the wider picture, and this is now bearing fruit. The central authorities have not only provided every support, but also remained committed to the “one country, two systems” policy. They know how much it benefits both the city and the country, which is precisely why China’s adversaries tried so hard to ruin it. With the return of stability and decency, there is real hope, and a rosy future beckons for Hong Kong.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS