Hong Kong Protest Demands Are Unrealistic, Singapore PM Says

Philip J. Heijmans

(Bloomberg) -- Protesters in Hong Kong are making unrealistic demands in an effort to take down the government, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

“Those are not demands which are meant to be a program to solve Hong Kong’s problems,” Lee said at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore on Wednesday. “Those are demands which are intended to humiliate and bring down the government. And then what?”

What began as a series of marches in Hong Kong against a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China has grown into a broader challenge to Beijing’s grip on the city. Four months of unrest have brought regular scenes of tear gas, vandalism and transit network disruptions that are beginning to weigh on the financial hub.

Hong Kong’s demonstrators have called for an independent inquiry into the violence, an amnesty for those charged during the unrest, rescinding the categorization of participants as “rioters” and the ability to nominate and elect their leaders.

Lee called for Hong Kongers to solve problems gradually, including respect for the “one country, two systems” framework, universal suffrage and housing in one of the world’s most expensive markets.

Why Hong Kong’s Still Protesting and Where It May Go: QuickTake

“As one Hong Konger put it very neatly, from China’s point of view they must not only think of one country but remember that this is two systems and from Hong Kong’s point of view, you must not only think of two systems, but remember that this is one country,” he said to applause. “And that calls for wisdom and constraint on both sides.”

Lee also said that Hong Kong would need to find “political courage” to solve its housing problems.

“You must be prepared to make changes which will have very significant social and economic consequences, and so far the SAR governments have gone for conservative approaches and the problem has not really significantly improved,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday announced a slew of measures aimed at reducing the cost of living for poorer members of the city, a bid to address some of the underlying economic issues that have helped fuel discontent. She planned to boost compulsory land purchases for housing, relax mortgage rules for first-time home buyers, give cash to students and increase subsidies for low-income families.

Singapore, which competes with Hong Kong as a center of finance in Asia, has faced criticism by human rights groups for taking a heavy hand to block dissent and suppress free speech. The city currently has the second most expensive residential housing market in the world behind Hong Kong, according to research by CBRE.

To contact the reporter on this story: Philip J. Heijmans in Singapore at pheijmans1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Daniel Ten Kate

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.