Hong Kong leader forced to abandon state of the union address amid protests

A line of police officers ride an escalator behind a protester holding an umbrella - REUTERS

Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam abandoned a state-of-the-union style address after opposition politicians heckled her in chaotic scenes inside the city’s legislative chamber.

As protesters gathered on the outskirts of the building, Ms Lam tried twice to deliver her speech while lawmakers projected a protest slogan behind her, forcing her to leave the chamber and release her remarks in an online video.

Her speech had been billed as an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong residents as pro-democracy protests disrupting the city enter a fifth month.

In an attempt to restore calm, Ms Lam pledged a range of social and economic measures, largely aimed at lowering the cost of living – particularly housing, by shortening the waiting time for public housing.

But Ms Lam’s policies – perhaps welcome to some young protesters who find it near-impossible to own a house – appear a short-term solution to a long-term political problem that is unlikely to be solved in the way activists are demanding.

A line of police officers ride an escalator behind a protester holding an umbrella - Credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS
A line of police officers ride an escalator behind a protester holding an umbrella Credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

One main tenet protesters have called for are democratic reforms to allow for direct leadership elections, to put in place a government they feel will be more representative.

To that end, Ms Lam made made clear “any acts that advocate Hong Kong’s independence and threaten the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests will not be tolerated.”

Hong Kong instead will remain under the “one country, two systems” principle. The policy, in place since the former British colony was returned to Beijing rule, was meant to keep in place freedoms in the city not seen in mainland China, led by the ruling Communist Party.

“Carrie Lam attempted to win people over by introducing these policies [but] she will not succeed. She failed to address the core issues,” said Alvin Yeung, a pro-democracy lawmaker. Her policy speech was “the last chance to address these pressing issues.”

But Hong Kong people have grown increasingly irate as growing Communist Party influence has led to eroding rights, the issue that broadly underpins the ongoing protests that now form the most public, direct opposition to president Xi Jinping since he took the reins in 2012.

As unrest continues, politicians in the UK and US have grown more vocal for Beijing to seek a humane resolution, as state media videos of military buildup in neighbouring Shenzhen, sending an ominous sign.

On Tuesday, the US House passed by unanimous voice vote four pieces of legislation taking a hard line on China, three of which were related to the protests in Hong Kong, drawing condemnation from Beijing.

One of the measures, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would require the US secretary of state to certify annually that Hong Kong remained sufficient autonomous to keep receiving special treatment that has allowed it to be a global financial hub.

Another measure would bar commercial exports of military and crowd-control gear that Hong Kong police could use against demonstrators.

In June, the UK halted all new export licenses of crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong.