HONG KONG – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday a package of measures agreed with Beijing to rescue the finances of the city, whose economy will contract by 6.1 percent in 2020.
In a lengthy speech to the Legislative Council, Lam said the former British colony has received “unprecedented blows” in recent years that “seriously undermined social stability” including “civil unrest, the pandemic and the international political situation.”
The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and “social unrest emanating from the opposition […] have threatened national security due to the interference of external forces,” she said, adding that “ways must be found to bring Hong Kong out of the deadlock and restore public confidence.”
Lam defended her latest visits to Beijing, where she agreed to promote the Greater Bay area, which includes up to nine cities, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau, to turn the area into a financial, technological and communications center.
She also announced a plan to connect the Chinese and Hong Kong stock exchanges that will allow more mainland Chinese companies to benefit from listing in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong has to take advantage of the opportunities that China offers,” the leader added.
She said Beijing supports Hong Kong so that the city has guaranteed the supply of vaccines against the coronavirus, adding that “Beijing will reserve lots so that they can be used among Hong Kong people if necessary.”
Relations with China marked the speech delivered by Lam, who justified the National Security Law approved by Beijing with the theoretical objective of defusing the anti-government protests unleashed last year in the city that, at times, ended in serious violent incidents between police and protesters radicals.
“There are people with bad intentions, influenced by external forces, who have taken advantage of the relatively complicated political and social situation in Hong Kong. Our priority is to rescue the constitutional order, to get out of the chaos,” she said.
The law penalizes acts such as secession or conspiring with foreign forces with life imprisonment, sparking fears among many citizens.
Since it was approved, there have been numerous police raids and arrests of pro-democracy activists, before which some of them have chosen to go into exile to try to avoid reprisals.
“It is Hong Kong’s responsibility to ensure their safety. Since the law came into force, peace has returned,” she said.
She also announced that the government will present a bill to “amend the ordinances on swearing-in by public officials,” as well as an educational campaign to “improve understanding of the rule of law.”
Opposition members of parliament gave up their seats in November after four were removed from office following a decree approved by Beijing, which allows the local government to strip politicians of their positions without having to resort to judicial instances.