Ahead of weekend protests in Hong Kong, politician says violence must stop

Real Estate

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, speaks during a news conference in July 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Anthony Kwan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Hong Kong politician and businessman Bernard Chan said that the violence in Hong Kong “has to stop,” as the city prepares itself for another weekend of mass protests. And it is up to everyone to return the city to normalcy, Chan told CNBC on Friday.

“People are recognizing that this cant go on, a dialogue need to start somewhere … you don’t expect us to please either sides overnight … this have to take some time,” said Chan, convenor of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s cabinet or panel of advisors to the city’s leader, the chief executive.

“Land supply is a major problem in Hong Kong, and that’s why there is a shortage in housings, so we have to use every meanings, including land resumption,” he told “Street Signs.”

The city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam introduced a series of housing measures aimed at addressing some of those concerns in an annual policy speech on Wednesday, as the city enters its fifth month of demonstrations.

She called housing the “toughest livelihood issue” facing the city’s citizens. She emphasized that housing issues are essential to social stability and “upward mobility,” defined as climbing up to the next social level.

Hong Kong has been repeatedly ranked as the most expensive place to own a home. The Asian financial hub has an average living space of about 13 square meters per person in 2018 — or an area smaller than the size of two average bathtubs laid out side by side.

Some critics say the package of economic and social initiatives do little to address the underlying political issues or that it has simply come too late. Chan said, however, “one can argue there is never enough,” defending Lam’s new policies as “something out of the ordinary.”

Chan said the main reason the government didn’t previously consider land resumption policies is because the process could be lengthy.

“They’re going to ask you for compensation and you can easily go into a legal battle on the level of compensation … but given the current situation, the government is hoping the landowner will be more willing to agree with the terms of the government,” said Chan.

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce released a statement on Wednesday, saying that the business community is “pleased to see” the government exploring options in redeveloping factory estates into public housing.

HKGCC Chairman Aron Harilela said in the press release: “Housing is a crucial issue that Hong Kong needs to resolve. The Chief Executive’s plan to provide 10,000 units within the next three years should help alleviate the shortages. The combination of expediting the sale of affordable public housing units under the Home Ownership Scheme, building additional starter homes, and raising the loan-to-value mortgage threshold, should also allow more first-time home buyers to secure their own home quickly.”

Back to ‘normalcy’

Hong Kong — a former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 — has been crippled by widespread demonstrations since early June. It operates as a semi-autonomous territory under the “one country, two systems” principle — a structure that grants Hong Kong citizens some degree of financial and legal independence from the mainland.

Due to its legal and financial autonomy, Hong Kong has often been the first stop for many foreign firms trying to access the massive Chinese market. Until recently, trade was robust and capital flew in, making many Hong Kongers very rich. Still, the wealth gap has continued to widen, and some say income inequality is a key underlying issue driving discontent.

But the path to finding a solution may take time.

“It’s not easy” to bring everyone together, said Chan. There is mistrust on both sides, especially “little trust in the authorities,” he said that has to be addressed first.

Violent acts have increased in the past two months. Two protesters were shot and one police was slashed in the throat over the last few weeks, sporadic acts of vandalism toward private and Chinese-state owned enterprises have also increased.

Chan said the “silver lining” in the crisis is that people from “all walks of life,” realize the severity of the situation and know that it is everyone’s responsibility to bring the city back to “normalcy.”

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