Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has warned pro-democracy protesters there that their actions could lead to the city "degenerating into anarchy."
While delivering his first policy address of 2015 today, Leung said: "As we pursue democracy, we should act in accordance with the law… Hong Kong autonomy under 'one country, two systems' is a high degree of autonomy, not an absolute autonomy."
The chief executive's speech was briefly delayed as pro-democracy legislators staged a demonstration inside the parliament, with several calling for him to step down. Some of the opposition lawmakers carried yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the protests, which they raised before purposefully walking out the building. Others wielded banners demanding universal suffrage.
Two of the male demonstrators — Raymond and Albert Chan — were hauled out by police, as around 20 other politicians walked out of the chamber. There were also scuffles in the parliament before Leung's address.
Leung warned of the impact that the "Umbrella Movement" has had on Hong Kong's international reputation, and emphasized how important it is that the economy continues to grow.
"Hong Kong's development into a world metropolis is the combined effort of many generations," he said. "The rule of law is the cornerstone of our prosperity and stability. Everyone is equal before the law, and everyone must obey it. There is no excuse for anyone to break the law.
"The Government and I will spare no effort to create favourable conditions for various trades, different local communities, and people from all walks of life to start new ventures, sustain business and seek employment. We should, however, remain vigilant at all times. We should guard against any acts which will jeopardise our competitiveness, tarnish our reputation, or undermine Hong Kong's stability and prosperity," continued the chief executive.
The protests erupted in September 2014, over local anger that candidates for the 2017 leadership election would be screened by a pro-Beijing committee. Hong Kong's Legislative Council have recently been holding public consultations, but pro-democracy activists say this is not enough. A report submitted to Beijing by the Hong Kong government earlier this month said that the city's legislature understand "constitutional development is an extremely controversial issue."
A former British colony, Hong Kong has been a special administrative region of China since 1997, but recent developments have really highlighted how removed their citizens feel from the communist country. A Chinese University poll conducted in November last year found that only 8.9 percent of Hong Kongers now identify as Chinese, the lowest number ever recorded. A new survey, released earlier this week, showed that two thirds of Hong Kong residents are unwilling to work in mainland China, while only two percent would be "very willing."
This cultural separation is an issue for Beijing, and something that Leung addressed today. During his speech he said that the Education Bureau would move to review and renew Hong Kong's educational curriculum as it relates to Chinese history, in an attempt to reinforce students' interest in China. Government subsidies for educational exchange programs to the mainland will be more than doubled. Leung also said it was important to review the city's world history program, in order to broaden students' global outlook.
Leung highlighted what he said are the benefits of Hong Kong's tie to China. "As part of China, we benefit from the rapid development of and enjoy preferential treatments from our country," he said. "At the same time, we benefit from having a system that is different from other mainland cities."
Leung also outlined various other policy changes and initiatives, including HK $28 million ($3.61 million) subsidies to support disabled athletes, a target to increase the number of women in government advisory and statutory roles, announcements about new "low emission zones" in the city, and a minimum wage increase from HK $30 an hour to HK $32.50.
He spoke of plans for a Chinese medicine testing center in the city "to pave the way for the internationalisation of Hong Kong' Chinese medicine industry," and announced the cancelation of a program that gives mainland Chinese citizens Hong Kong residency rights if they invest HK $10 million in the city.
Leung urged the public to be on the alert over pro-democracy groups that may be lying to the public, and highlighted a cover story from the Chinese-language monthly magazine Undergrad — published by the student union at the University of Hong Kong — which was titled "Hong Kong people should decide their own fate."
"'Undergraduates and other students, including student leaders of the Occupy movement, have misstated some facts," Leung stated. "We also ask political figures with close ties to the leaders of the student movement to advise them against putting forward such fallacies."
The "Umbrella Movement" was largely organized and led by student leaders, whom Leung referenced. After declaring that "university students are the future pillars of society and deserve our care," he elaborated on that.
"Hence," he said, "there is all the more reason for us to commend them for their merits and correct their mistakes. They should be guided towards a full understanding of the constitutional relationship between our country and Hong Kong so that the discussion on constitutional development would not be fruitless."
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