World

HK leader: No room 
for independence

Chief Executive Leung reminds Hong Kong that it has benefited much from China

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's unpopular pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun Ying faced protests yesterday as he spoke out against the city's independence movement in his final policy address.

Mr Leung will step down in July after a four-year term marked by anti-Beijing rallies as fears grow that the Chinese authorities are squeezing Hong Kong's freedoms.

As he struggled to start his speech due to heckling, some pro-democracy lawmakers held up signs depicting Mr Leung as a monkey and calling him a "liar".

Mr Leung said in the annual address: "As we benefit from the opportunities brought by the development of our country and the national policies in our favour, we must clearly recognise that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of our country.

"This is both a legal fact and an internationally recognised political reality, leaving no room whatsoever for Hong Kong to become independent or separate from the motherland in any manner."

Residents must "safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity", said Mr Leung, who did not mention any plans for kick-starting democratic reform, after a controversial Beijing-backed package was shelved following massive protests in 2014.

The government has also been accused of a witch hunt after two pro-independence lawmakers were forced to give up their seats last year. Four more pro-democracy legislators face a judicial review into whether they should be disqualified.

However, Mr Leung said the city still enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and pledged his government would "uphold Hong Kong's core values, including human rights, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and integrity".

ONE BELT, ONE ROAD

In an address which lasted more than two hours and mainly focused on the economy and domestic issues, Mr Leung framed the city's economic strategy within Beijing's latest five-year plan and its One Belt, One Road initiative, which calls for constructing vast rail and infrastructure links connecting Chinese exporters to markets across Eurasia.

Around 100 protesters gathered outside the legislature, protesting over pension funds and workers' rights.

Wealth inequality and perceived cosiness between politicians and the business elite are driving discontent.

Mr Leung promised 460,000 new housing units in the next decade and a rise in the minimum wage.

But he rejected the idea of a universal state pension - something campaigners have demanded for years.

In conclusion, he said his original election manifesto had been "basically implemented".

"Hong Kong is a blessed land. We must cherish the blessing," he said, to applause. - AFP

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