Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa emotional in dismissal of ‘groundless’ criticism against Lantau Tomorrow Vision reclamation
- City’s first chief executive throws weight behind controversial government plan, hailing it as the future for Hong Kong
- He says fears about draining fiscal reserves are unfounded as development will be in phases
Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa on Monday dismissed “misleading” and “groundless” criticism as he made an emotional case for a massive government reclamation project off Lantau Island to build a new metropolis.
Tung said the controversial project, which has sparked concern over astronomical costs and pollution, represented the future of Hong Kong’s development.
“It should be launched without delay,” he said, adding that the city’s housing woes had always been a “knot” in his heart.
“I hope this knot can be untied very soon,” Tung said in a speech on Monday at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai to mark the fourth anniversary of the founding of his think tank, Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Tung, the city’s first chief executive and now vice-chairman of the state’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, took the occasion to weigh in on the debate over the mega project.
He also praised Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for her plan, titled “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”, announced in her policy address last month. The aim was to create 1,700 hectares in Hong Kong waters to house 1.1 million people. Estimates have put the cost at HK$500 billion or more.
“It coincides with our foundation’s proposal to build a man-made island off Lantau,” Tung added, referring to a similar but smaller project proposed by the foundation.
He said he believed Lam’s plan would be a major source of land for housing. “If we drag our feet, land will not grow out of nothing.”
Tung hit back at critics, saying some of their accusations were “misleading and groundless”.
“In a pluralistic society, it is natural that there are debates over different issues. But discussions should be constructive and rational,” he said.
Tung argued that the project would not drain fiscal reserves because it would be developed in many phases. He also said income from land sales on the reclaimed area could cover costs.
“Do we want to wait forever and do nothing?” he asked.
Our Hong Kong Foundation earlier proposed a similar project, with superstar Andy Lau Tak-wah, once dubbed “the people’s chief executive” narrating a promotional video. But the move backfired and Lau was slammed for supporting the proposal.
On Monday, Tung devoted nearly half of his 30-minute speech to hail China’s achievements in its 40 years of reform and opening up.
He also urged Hong Kong to grasp the opportunities that came with the country’s development, citing the “Greater Bay Area” – a scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine other mainland cities into an economic and innovation hub – and the “Belt and Road Initiative”, China’s global trade strategy.
Tung quoted President Xi Jinping as saying that Hong Kong had contributed much to the country’s reforms, and had also benefited a lot from it.
“After all these years, Hong Kong will still have important roles to play in the country’s future development,” he said.
On China’s rise in the past four decades, he said: “No time in the history of man did we see such big progress achieved in such a short period of time,” citing figures on how 700 million people were pulled from poverty because of the policy to open up.