Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the cost of the government’s “Northern Metropolis” plan has yet to be calculated, but the project was a “profitable business.”

Lam’s comments came after she unveiled, in the last policy address of her current term, a large-scale development plan to build a “Northern Metropolis” along Hong Kong’s border with mainland China. It aims to provide more than 900,000 homes for some 2.5 million people.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam (third from right) attending a televised forum over the 2021 Policy Address on October 7, 2021. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The chief executive attended a televised forum on Wednesday evening and a phone-in radio show on Thursday morning, where she was asked about the cost of the project, which would create an additional 600 hectares of land for development.

“Because this business [the Northern Metropolis] is worth it, it’s a profitable business,” said Lam on Wednesday, after a reporter asked if it was “irresponsible” for the government to announce the development before calculating the cost.

“When you look back on history, developing land is always profitable,” said Lam. “[We] have a profitable business right in front of us, but all we’re concerned about is that we don’t have enough money in our account.”

The city’s leader also said that if the government did not have enough capital to fund the project, the administration could issue government bonds, which would also “have another benefit of growing the bond market.”

‘Fake news’

While the legislature passed a non-binding motion earlier in the year urging the government to legislate against “fake news” and false information, no plans on the legislation were announced in Lam’s latest policy address.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference after delivering her 2021 Policy Address. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

A reporter asked Lam on the radio show on Thursday jointly hosted by RTHK, Commercial Radio and Metro Radio whether she would consider asking for journalists to be licensed, and whether that would impact freedom of speech and press freedom.

“I don’t have a particular view, but I wonder if licensing journalists is really that harsh of a requirement,” said Lam. “Nowadays all professionals have to be tested and licensed, but that does not mean I have this view.”

The reporter also asked whether rumours that district councillors who were disqualified would be asked to hand back salaries and subsidies they had received since the beginning of their term would qualify as “fake news,” and why the government did not clarify if the rumours were not true.

“I don’t know where the rumours came from,” said Lam. “We have a lot of rumours every day, if we have to clarify messages circling in society every day, [we] won’t be able to do anything else.”

Another report also asked whether Lam would increase communication with young people on the internet, as the chief executive mentioned increasing control over online platforms.

“I did not say that I don’t use social media platforms…” said Lam. “However, the problem is that no one is controlling these platforms; we can see that even western countries are finding ways to exert control, especially targeting those that might lead to radical or extreme actions, or problems of spreading hate and racial conflicts.”

Lam did not provide evidence of such claims, though Beijing published a “fact sheet” claiming the US had “interfered” in Hong Kong. It listed dozens of public comments and policies enacted by Washington.

Not giving up on youth

Mr Ko, a caller on Thursday’s radio show, asked the chief executive whether she would consider sending messages that “offer an olive branch” to young people who are against the government.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam (right) attending a joint phone-in radio show over the 2021 Policy Address on October 7, 2021. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“I hope that the government can send more messages that ‘offer an olive branch,” that as long as these young people acknowledge that they have gone too far in the past, and that they will improve in the future, and won’t reoffend, I think that will gain their approval and sense of belonging,” said Ko.

The chief executive said in response that the government, including the six disciplined services, “care a lot about young people.”

A reporter also asked during Wednesday’s televised forum how the chief executive would assess her stance on young people, as Lam once said she “would not give up” on more radical youngsters.

“It depends on what you define as not giving up. Some people once said that ‘well you said you’re not giving up on young people, some have breached the law during the black violence, can you cut them some slack,’ well I can’t do that,” said Lam, referring to the anti-extradition bill protests and unrest in 2019.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.