Hong Kong’s leader has insisted that Beijing did not instruct her administration to focus on the city’s housing and poverty issues, saying they are matters for local officials to tackle even though they can look to the central government for support.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s comments came on Tuesday, while answering a series of questions from the media on Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung was quoted by the Financial Times as saying in an interview that “Hong Kong will still remain a tax haven” despite political and economic turmoil, and that Beijing had instructed the local government to “crack the hard nut”, referring to problems such as housing and land crisis, and the wealth gap.
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But in a statement issued late on Monday night, a government spokesman clarified that Cheung did not say the city authorities were instructed by the central government to focus on those problems.
The spokesman also suggested the chief secretary only meant to say that Hong Kong had a low and simple tax regime.
During her weekly briefing on Tuesday, Lam was asked why the statement was issued when senior Beijing officials had urged her to tackle the city’s socio-economic problems.
The chief executive said: “The ‘instruction’ did not happen. Under ‘one country, two systems’, Hong Kong deals with its own economic and social affairs.
“But the central leadership cares a lot about various aspects of Hong Kong, including its economy and the people’s livelihood. It would spare no effort in supporting the city in boosting its economy and improving people’s livelihood.”
Lam also said since she took office in July 2017, she had been involved in lobbying for Beijing’s support on a range of policy initiatives.
“This did not mean that Beijing was instructing [the Hong Kong government], it was caring about us and supporting us.”
Earlier this month, Vice-Premier Han Zheng urged Hong Kong’s chief executive to continue to treat the fight against coronavirus as her top priority, but the city had to implement Beijing’s plan to overhaul its electoral system, which he described as a “battle” to defend the rule of law against subversion.
“Under the prerequisite of effective epidemic control, it must coordinate and do well in various socio-economic aspects,” Han said.
In a separate meeting with a group of Hong Kong politicians in Beijing, he also mentioned the city’s housing problem had yet to be solved.
On the point about Hong Kong’s tax regime, Lam said it was Cheung who felt that the Financial Times’ report was inaccurate.
“There is no room for any vagueness. Hong Kong is not what ordinary people would describe as a haven or paradise for tax evasion, Hong Kong is proud to be a place with a simple tax regime and low tax rates.”
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