Pro-establishment legislators showered Chief Executive John Lee with praise for his “bold” and “ground-breaking” Policy Address, but one lawmaker urged faster progress in dumping all Covid-19 quarantine rules and another wanted faster progress on introducing Hong Kong’s own security law.
Luring overseas talent to Hong Kong was one of the main themes of Lee’s address on Wednesday. Eased visas and incentives such as a stamp duty refund on home purchases will be among the incentives to be provided.
Roundtable party lawmaker Michael Tien was among the legislators who complimented Lee on his efforts, saying the Policy Address exceeded his expectations but there was one unsatisfactory aspect.
“I was most disappointed that this Policy Address made no mention of the [proposed] 0+0 measure and a roadmap of returning to normalcy,” Tien said. Lee has abolished hotel quarantine for international arrivals but they must still undergo three days of medical surveillance at home, during which they are banned from bars, restaurants and some other premises.
“You used a lot of paragraphs to talk about attracting talent, hosting large-scale exhibits and international events, but these rely on the number of overseas arrivals. And you know these people are most resistant to Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic policies,” Tien said.
Lee said he understood Tien’s opinions, adding they actually shared the same vision.
“The difference between us, however, was that the things you considered were fewer than what I did. I took into account the overall situation of Hong Kong. My concern was I do not wish to flip-flop [on the measures],” Lee said.
The leader said the direction of his efforts to control the pandemic was clear and he had been working towards more relaxations.
The Policy Address has a chapter called “Combat the Epidemic Together,” which was mainly a round-up of measures or easing measures announced recently. In it, Lee promised to “enhance various measures in a progressive way” when conditions permit.
Lawmaker Junius Ho, meanwhile criticised the chief executive for not providing a clear timetable for enacting Article 23, the city’s own security law. Ho said he would have given Lee’s Policy Address 90 marks out of 100, but deducted 20 marks because he only mentioned “preparatory work” for the legislation.
Article 23 is different from the current national security law in Hong Kong, which was imposed by Beijing bypassing local legislation. Hong Kong is obliged under an article in its Basic Law constitution to pass its own law against treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.
An initial attempt to draft such a law was dropped in 2003 following mass protests.
Lee said good preparation was the key to making the new law effective and conducting extensive reviews of other countries’ national security laws would help “open up” blind spots. He said the national security threats Hong Kong faces had changed since 2003, with more serious cyberattacks and misinformation.
“National security is another kind of war, but with different means, such as ‘colour revolutions,’ infiltrations and the use of spies. Don’t we need to treat them seriously? Shouldn’t we think of the best way to block these threats? Is it [only] important to resolve them quickly?” an emotional Lee asked Ho.
“I hope this national security law Article 23 has a preventative effect. I do not wish to fight back only when the threats arrive. They will not even dare to come for us, because [the law] is very effective,” Lee said, adding he agreed the drafting should be done swiftly.
Some lawmakers followed up on other initiatives in the address, including the Light Public Housing scheme, which will provide prefabricated temporary public housing for people who have been waiting more than three years for permanent public flats.
Lawmaker Gary Chan from the pro-Beijing DAB recalled a visit to a family transitioning out of a private subdivided unit to their new home.
“The mother told me her daughter was very happy because for the first time, the nine-year-old was able to sit on a sofa at home. When I heard that, I felt heartbroken. When such a common piece of furniture became a luxury for the grassroots, it showed that our housing problem has reached a tipping point.”
He said Lee’s ambition to reduce the waiting time for a permanent public housing flat from six years currently to 4.5 years in the next four years was “an improvement,” but was still far from the three-year goal recommended by the Housing Authority. Chan called on Lee to further cut the waiting time.
The chief executive said he had himself visited subdivided unit residents, and understood the urgency in improving their living conditions. He said the 4.5-year promise was “to give people hope” and his administration “will not give up” on achieving that and finding better, quicker solutions.
Lee, at a post-Policy Address press conference on Wednesday, said “some people who are living in subdivided flats, are not people who are, in any way, underprivileged” and they opted for the units for various reasons. He said the Light Public Housing provided a way out for those who do not want to live in a subdivided flat.
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