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Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam rules out cutting number of mainland Chinese migrants to Hong Kong in Facebook live session

City leader discusses subjects from housing to civil liberties, in first appearance for a chief executive on online platform

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 12:44am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 1:23am

Hong Kong’s leader on Friday ruled out reducing or scrapping the quota for mainland Chinese migrants settling in the city, accusing political activists of “brainwashing” local residents into blaming people from across the border for the city’s housing shortage and inadequate resources.

Hosting an unprecedented Facebook live session to engage the public in discussing ideas for her policy address in October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor fielded questions on issues ranging from animal rights and education to housing and civil liberties.

Several viewers suggested abolishing or reducing the daily quota of 150 one-way permits issued to mainlanders reuniting with their families and settling in the city, but Lam rejected the idea.

“Maybe recently some people have successfully brainwashed you into thinking that our shortage of flats, high property prices and insufficient medical services, they’re all related to the one-way permit,” she said.

“But that’s not the case. Quite the contrary, those coming here to reunite with their families are our new assets, they are part of Hong Kong ... Even some radical young people [among you] and their parents came here on one-way permits.”

Lam suggested that young mainlanders migrating to Hong Kong could ease the problems caused by the city’s ageing population and low birth rate.

Viewership during the 48-minute session peaked at about 2,000 concurrents, and more than 38,000 people had watched at least part of it by the end. Lam received more than 3,900 responses from Facebook users, although “angry face” emojis far outnumbered “thumbs up” and “heart” symbols, and she received about 10,000 comments.

The live session was moderated by two young analysts from the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, the government’s think tank formerly known as the Central Policy Unit.

It was the first time a Hong Kong chief executive used the Facebook live platform since it was introduced in 2016.

Lam answered about 30 questions from internet users as well as one each from the Democratic Party and a local media company. Half of her answers were to questions filed in advance and picked out of a box, while the rest were selected from comments and questions posted online during the session.

If you are talking about stopping non-local residents or non-local permanent residents from buying things such as homes, we need to be very cautious, as we are a free and open market economy
Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Responding to those suggesting restrictions on non-residents buying flats and on land reclamation as a solution to the city’s housing woes, Lam said: “People have to understand that there are not many ways to increase land supply, especially when we are talking about creating land from scratch. History tells us we basically need to rely on reclamation.

“Regarding foreigners buying homes, we already have special stamp duties in place ... But if you are talking about stopping non-local residents or non-local permanent residents from buying things such as homes, we need to be very cautious, as we are a free and open market economy.”

On the question of taking back by force land being hoarded by developers, Lam said critics had misconceptions about the government’s power to do so under the Land Resumption Ordinance.

“They think the government is unwilling to use the ‘imperial sword’ … actually that is not the case, we use it every day,” she said. But she also cautioned that such decisions would have to be thought out carefully because they could be challenged in court.

The chief executive also fielded questions about freedom of speech and association in Hong Kong, amid the controversy over the government’s bid to ban the fledgling, pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. Both the government and Beijing have been accused of trying to muzzle free speech by objecting to party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin’s recent speech at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

“Freedom of speech, assembly and the press is not absolute ... otherwise the world would be chaotic,” Lam said. But she stressed that while her government would be “irresponsible” to ignore separatism, it would only act within the law.

“Can we arbitrarily suppress speech that we dislike? We can’t, because Hong Kong is a city where the rule of law applies,” she said.

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The chief executive was also questioned about her government’s commitment to stamping out animal abuse.

“First, I have to declare that I don’t really like keeping pets, but that does not mean I will not protect them,” she replied.

And she was asked about the recent debate about buskers being chased out of popular street venues because of noise complaints.

“For street performances, it depends where they are being held,” she said. “I like to watch various performers in big plazas during my travels, especially in Europe … but the problem in Hong Kong is, the streets here are too narrow.”