Hong Kong leader vows to restore political order in key speech

·2 min read

Hong Kong's leader vowed Wednesday to restore order to the city's legislature and save its political system from "chaos", in a key policy speech at a muted gathering of almost exclusively pro-Beijing lawmakers.

Chief executive Carrie Lam's annual policy address to the Legislative Council -- postponed for more than a month after she was ordered to travel to mainland China for meetings with central government officials -- outlines the administration's plans for the city.

Hong Kong is ruled under a "One Country, Two Systems" model that allows it to retain a degree of autonomy and some freedoms that are denied to citizens on the authoritarian mainland.

But while last year saw months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests, a strict new national security law imposed by Beijing in June -- as well as anti-pandemic measures limiting public gatherings -- have meant Hong Kong's streets have remained largely free from unrest.

"One of our urgent priorities is to restore Hong Kong's constitutional order and political system from chaos," Lam told the legislature, which for the first time had almost no opposition presence after pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified and supporters resigned en masse in protest.

"Hong Kong has experienced multiple blows which are unprecedented," she added, citing the social unrest, shrinking economy, pandemic and acts that "endangered national security".

Fifteen pro-democracy lawmakers quit earlier this month in protest at the ousting of four colleagues by the government, leaving the legislature a muted gathering of Beijing loyalists.

During last year's demonstrations, the handpicked leader declined to make the speech in the chamber, instead releasing a pre-recorded video after pro-democracy lawmakers heckled her and called for her resignation.

This year's speech went smoothly, with none of the protesting stunts usually seen from opposition lawmakers.

Local media captured officials nodding and apparently snoozing during the lengthy speech, while some were seen checking stock prices and playing Sudoku on their phones.

Lam said her government would introduce bills to "enhance the oath-taking" by civil servants and to "enhance the electoral system", though details were unclear.

Media reports had suggested that the government might expand voting for Hong Kongers in mainland China, a controversial move criticised by the opposition, although Lam did not offer details on the plans.

The leader also said her administration would strengthen patriotic education in the city, part of efforts to foster a sense of greater national identity among youngsters.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested during last year's social unrest, among which 40 percent are students.