Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has vowed to deepen ties with mainland China and pledged to rescue the city from “chaos”, using an annual policy address to hint at a further political clampdown on the Asian financial centre.
Ms Lam used the speech, which was delayed by more than a month to allow her to consult with Beijing, to push back against international interference that she said had jeopardised China’s national security.
“Ill-intentioned people influenced by external forces have made use of the relatively complicated social and political situation in Hong Kong to deliberately mislead the public,” she said of the relationship between the semi-autonomous territory and Beijing. “One of our urgent priorities is to restore [Hong Kong’s] constitutional order and political system from chaos.”
Pro-democracy protests that rocked the city in 2019 have died down during the pandemic and after Beijing introduced a broadly defined national security law in June. Despite this, Ms Lam spoke of the need to educate the public on the city’s laws and national security.
This will include reforming the education system to prevent the “infiltration of politics into school” and bolstering a sense of national identity for young people. Ms Lam noted that 40 per cent of the more than 10,000 arrests during the protests were students.
She said liberal studies, a high school course designed to foster critical thinking among students that has been criticised by pro-Beijing politicians for encouraging young people to demonstrate, would be reformed.
The ethics and characters of teachers will also be examined with the Education Bureau tasked with taking action against teachers for serious misconduct. At least two teachers have been deregistered in recent months, one of whom was accused by the city’s education bureau of discussing independence.
Ms Lam’s policy address was the first given by a Hong Kong leader to the city’s de facto parliament with almost no opposition lawmakers in attendance. Most of the city’s pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse this month after the government disqualified four colleagues using new powers granted by Beijing that allow authorities to remove legislators on national security grounds. The government’s decision was widely condemned by the international community.
The chief executive said bills would be introduced to “enhance” the electoral system and civil servants would have to vow to uphold the city’s mini constitution.
Hong Kong’s economy is in the doldrums, after falling into recession during the protests last year and being pummelled by the pandemic. Plans to gradually begin reopening the trading hub with a travel bubble to Singapore were postponed at the weekend after a spike in cases in Hong Kong. New social distancing restrictions have been introduced this week.
Ms Lam, who wore a Chinese and Hong Kong flag broach, said measures to boost the economy would focus on schemes in the Greater Bay Area, a project designed to integrate Hong Kong more closely with the mainland and a flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ms Lam’s speech was condemned by pro-democracy campaigners.
“We have clearly seen that this policy address is not for the people of Hong Kong,” said Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic party and a former lawmaker. “The wording used in this address is similar to those work reports submitted by mainland senior officials to the central government.”