Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam took to Facebook to explain her policy address to the public on Thursday night, where she seized the opportunity to defend the embattled police force.

Lam in previous years appeared on radio and television to explain her governance blueprint, but rejected those options this year out of safety concerns, she said. Instead, she held a one-hour live session answering questions drawn from various online platforms.

The live stream drew less than 8,000 viewers at its peak. Around 80 per cent of the 12,000 “reactions” on the Facebook post expressed anger, and many users wrote: “Five demands, not one less.”

Photo: Carrie Lam, via Facebook.

Lam said she had already responded to the protesters’ demands, but said she was “perplexed” by calls to disband the police: “Every day there are large and small problems with law and order in Hong Kong… and the police are needed to follow up on those cases.”

“I hope everyone can be objective, and not take a predetermined view. I hope that law enforcement will not have subjective feelings towards protesters, and in the same way, protesters should not believe that the police are acting against them,” she added.

There are complaint mechanisms for police misconduct, Lam said, and the Independent Police Complaints Council was looking into controversial events such as the attack at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.

Asked about the lack of visible identification on police officers’ uniforms, Lam said there were alternative methods to tell officers apart, and that she will “continue to ask the police force to fulfil their requirements the best they can.”

Photo: inmediahk.net.

At the same time as Lam’s question-and-answer session, protesters held their Citizens Press Conference – a representative group organised online – where they blasted the policy address as ineffective in dealing with Hong Kong’s political crisis and said that Hongkongers’ demand for democracy cannot be met with economic solutions.

“At the peak of her people’s suffering and grievances, Lam and her cabinet were still determined to buy us off with their sops,” he said.

As the city entered its 19th week of protest and unrest, triggered by an ill-fated extradition bill, demonstrators have continued to demand accountability for alleged police brutality, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”

On her live stream, Lam conceded that the policy address was not meant to tackle political problems, and she understood some protesters took to the streets for non-economic reasons.

Housing policies in question

Democrats on Wednesday challenged one of Lam’s key initiatives as a “negative equity trap” for young people. Under the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation’s mortgage insurance scheme, first-time homebuyers will be able to obtain as much as 90 per cent loan for properties worth up to HK$8 million.

Protesters respond to Carrie Lam’s policy address at the Citizens’ Press Conference.

Lam told viewers that the plan was meant to be in line with market trends.

“Finding a starter home below HK$4 million is difficult,” she said, referring to the previous ceiling under the mortgage insurance scheme. “There are people who can afford to pay a monthly mortgage, but do not have enough saved for a down payment.”

“This policy provides a choice for first-time property buyers who are looking for a place to live.”

Lam said that buyers would make prudent decisions, and her policy would not lure the public into making rash financial decisions.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

At the protesters’ press conference, researcher Yeung Ha-chi from the land policy concern group Liber Research Community criticised Lam for sticking to her Lantau reclamation plan, which he said would “destroy” both the environment and Hong Kong’s coffers.

The project – estimated to cost HK$624 billion in its initial stage – aims to build a metropolis to the east of Lantau Island using land reclaimed from Hong Kong’s central waters.

Lam said that the reclamation plan was the outcome of a public consultation exercise last year and that the government would expand its land supply with other options, such as partially taking back the Fanling golf course.

The question-and-answer event on Thursday was Lam’s second attempt at engaging the public through Facebook Live. The previous event took place last August when she was soliciting ideas for her 2018 policy address.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.