Property prices, land supply and young people – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam reflects on pressing issues affecting city as she marks first year in office
Chief executive held a 100-minute interview with journalists after attending a reception celebrating 21st anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor held a 100-minute interview with a group of local journalists on Sunday morning after she attended a reception celebrating the 21st anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.
Reflecting on her first year in office, the chief executive answered more than 20 questions on political, economic and social issues such as land and housing, national security and young people. Here are some of the highlights of the interview.
Q: Is there any way to curb the increase in property prices?
A: In a free economy, it is extremely difficult to curb the price of a particular commodity or service without giving up the free economy … The goal of my six measures was not to curb property prices. The most important method to curb prices is [to increase] supply.
No government, not to say this administration of a relatively free economy, would make promises to lower property prices.
Q: Some said that Beijing was not satisfied over the housing problem in Hong Kong, and urged you to do more, and that was why you came up with a series of new housing policies. Is this kind of opinion fair to you?
A: Over the past year, I felt that the central government knew very well what kind of issues should be dealt with by the Hong Kong government, which enjoys a high degree of autonomy … In the past 12 months, not a single official from the central government had a say about what should be done related to Hong Kong’s economy. The central government would not interfere with how the chief executive dealt with livelihood problems.
Q: Land reclamation seems to be one of the best ways to increase land supply, why were so many options included in the ongoing public consultation exercise?
A: Land supply will be a key point in my policy address. If you ask me, I dare to say that we need to reclaim land, but society needs to focus and say we need it first. If we only had [reclamation as] a single option, I would be criticised too.
Q: Is it possible to change the ratio of planned public housing flats to private ones, which is 6:4 now?
A: It is possible as long as we have a clearer grasp of the land supply situation. More measures, including providing more than 460,000 public housing flats, are all possible.
Q: Can you relax the current restrictions on mortgages so that more people can afford to buy homes, and at the same time impose more restrictions to discourage foreigners or non-permanent residents from buying flats?
A: I fully understand that [the current restrictions] have affected those who are capable of buying houses but cannot afford the down payment. But the government has concerns about fully relaxing the restriction on loan-to-value ratio, as it may intensify the craze in the private real estate market, which would worsen the current situation.
Q: How would a Sino-US trade war affect Hong Kong?
A: Of course we will pay close attention to the possibility of a trade war, and we definitely do not want it to happen, as Hong Kong is an important financial and trade centre where loads of export and import businesses are operating.
But [a trade war happening] is beyond our control, and the only thing we can do is to get prepared before it comes.
Q: In the past year, some young activists were jailed, while a number of university students still seems to misunderstand the principle of “one country, two systems”. Do you think the problems with Hong Kong’s young people have improved in the past year?
A: The judiciary’s verdict was made independently in accordance with the law. The government is absolutely not responsible for its judgments, not to mention me … So I cannot really say whether the sentence triggered more dissatisfaction among young people.
But in the past year, I don’t think the situation concerning young people’s attitude towards our country has worsened … Work needs to be done slowly, including education that gives young people opportunities to know more about the development of the country.
Q: The social and political atmosphere has improved over the past year, is it time for the government to consider national security legislation?
A: I will not put it [the legislation] high on a shelf and wait for some other day to do it – we have waited too long for many things, including economic and livelihood issues.