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Tuesday, September 20, 2016, 09:28

Leung: HK needs to ‘sharpen’ its competitive edge

By Zhou Li and Joseph Li

Editor’s Note: In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying discusses the successes of his government, his concerns about the rise of “Hong Kong independence”, and what he thinks about running for a second term. Zhou Li and Joseph Li talk to him.

Leung: HK needs to ‘sharpen’ its competitive edge
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (right) talks to Zhou Li (center), a member of the editorial board of China Daily Group and the publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific, and China Daily reporter Joseph Li at the Government House last Thursday. (Photo by E dmond Tang, R oy liu / China Daily)

On work of the current-term government

Q: I remember when we first met about six years ago, you gave a very clear and thought-provoking analysis on the social divide and income inequality in Hong Kong, and its impact on the future of Hong Kong. I am wondering about the situation now, as you have been in office for five years. What measures and policies has your government implemented to improve the livelihood of Hong Kong people?

A: The social situation, in particular, the income gap in Hong Kong, has improved in the last four years, but the situation is far from being ideal. Still, there is a lot of work to be done in the future. If you look at the social welfare side of the work of the Hong Kong government in the last four years — in monetary terms — the annual amount that the government spends on helping the underprivileged in Hong Kong has increased by 55 percent since we took over. And together with the pro-employment policy that we have adopted in growing the economy, the employment income of the bottom 35 percent of the workforce has been increasing. I think generally speaking the total income of the low ranks of the society has improved. But the situation is far from being ideal, particularly on the housing front. We all know that the biggest expenditure item of households in Hong Kong is housing. The costs of housing, whether the cost of ownership or the cost of renting a roof over one’s head, are still too high. We are working tirelessly on this front. You probably read yesterday (Sept 14) that in July, the number of housing units that were the subjects of application, namely developers apply to government departments to start their construction, was the highest in 15 years. And the total number of units under construction which will be completed in the next three to four years again is the record high. So hopefully with more supply, we will be able to arrest the long-term trend of rents and prices going up. There is still a lot of work to be done. I know this is also the responsibility of the government, to wrap our minds around the question of the income and the quality of life of the middle-class in Hong Kong.

On ‘Hong Kong independence’

Q: We all know that the “Hong Kong independence” has no future, but a number of people are promoting this concept which causes concerns among the Hong Kong society and the central government. What strategies and measures do you think the government should take to combat this trend?

A: Firstly, let me say that this is the view or the proposition of a very small minority of the Hong Kong society. By far the majority of Hong Kong people support “One Country, Two Systems”, and the two systems within the same country, name it, our country, China. But we shouldn’t be complacent. If we did not tackle the problem, and tackle it well, it could spread. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. That’s in the Basic Law. We obviously should point to this specific Article 1 of the Basic Law which says that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. I think we should do some more public education in Hong Kong. I just read a letter on the South China Morning Post this morning (Sept 15), for example. The letter basically said we can amend the Basic Law because there is an article that allows the amendment of the Basic Law. But the writer of the letter probably missed paragraph four of Article 159 which deals with the amendments of the Basic Law. Let me read it up for you. It says no amendment to the Basic Law shall contravene the established basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong. And of course one of the basic principles is Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. A lot of people do not realize this, so again partly this is the duty of the Hong Kong government to make sure people understand not just one or two articles of the Basic Law, but all articles of the Basic Law. Some young people also claim that we should now prepare for the possibility of Hong Kong being in one way or another, detached from the rest of the country in 2047. As far as the “One Country” aspect is concerned, 2047 is a non-event, because 2047 is obviously 1997 plus 50 years, and the reference to the 50 years in Basic Law is in Article 5. It says that the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years. So it is the capitalist system and the way of life in Hong Kong that shall remain unchanged for 50 years. So after 50 years in 2047, strictly speaking, in theory, the capitalist system and way of life could change. My view is that we don’t have to change that, because this “One Country, Two Systems” serves Hong Kong well today, and will in 2047 and thereafter. This article doesn’t say in 2047 the “One Country” aspect can be changed. So in 2047, we will carry on with “One Country, Two Systems”.   There is a good deal of misunderstanding among the young people about the provision of the Basic Law and therefore the constitutional arrangement between Hong Kong and the country. Of course, I don’t rule out the possibility of people who understand the Basic Law but calculate to mislead.

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