Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a slew of measures for the city’s poor residents on Oct. 16, in a major speech she was forced to give via video after chaotic protests in the legislature.
Lam had been due to give her annual policy address in the chamber, in a bid to win over residents reeling from lengthy and increasingly violent pro-democracy protests that have plunged the territory into its worst crisis in decades.
But the session was adjourned after opposition lawmakers donned face Xi Jinping masks, chanted slogans and one used a pocket projector to broadcast protest demands while Lam was on the podium.
A second attempt by Lam to conduct the speech in the chamber was also abandoned.
Lam, via video shortly afterwards, outlined plans to lower the high cost of housing for residents, in moves aimed at addressing some of the economic issues that have fueled the months-long protests.
She also announced polices to boost compulsory land purchases for housing, relax mortgage rules for first-home buyers, give cash to students and increase subsidies for low-income families.
“Housing is the toughest livelihood issue facing Hong Kong society,” Lam said. “It is also a source of public grievances. I have never taken this matter lightly.”
Lam pledged to reduce waiting times for access to public housing in Hong Kong, which has one of the least affordable property markets in the world, with sky-high rents.
She also said she expects the economy to have entered a technical recession in the third quarter, following a slowing global economy, and as the protests keep tourists and consumers away from Hong Kong’s hotels and shopping malls.
Lam’s administration has struggled to resolve the protests sparked in June by a now dropped bill to allow extradition of suspects to mainland China. The protests have since broadened into a push for improved economic equality and greater democracy.
Lam’s speech did not address key political demands of the protesters, including an independent inquiry into police use of force during the protests, an amnesty for the more than 2,000 protesters arrested and the right for Hong Kong people to select and elect their own leaders.
Lam instead appealed for calm and pledged to uphold the “one country, two systems” framework that gives the former British colony some autonomy from the Chinese mainland.
“I believe our society will agree that continued violence and spread of hatred would erode the core values of Hong Kong, disrupt social peace and undermine the excellent systems that took years of efforts to build,” Lam said in her address. “I therefore appeal to every Hong Kong citizen to cherish the city in which we all have a share.”
Pro-democracy lawmakers later repeated calls for Lam to resign, saying she had lost their confidence to resolve the crisis.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reportedly cut a live feed of Lam in the legislature as soon as the disruptions started.
The disrupted speech comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill late on Oct. 16 aimed at defending civil rights in Hong Kong following the protests. It also passed a related bill that would halt exports of some crowd control items to Hong Kong.
China, which has accused the U.S. and Britain of working to fuel the unrest in Hong Kong, reacted to the first bill by telling Washington to “stop meddling.”