Hong Kong leader to unveil new policies after months of unrest

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will unveil a closely watched State of the Union-style speech Wednesday aimed at winning hearts and minds after four months of seething pro-democracy protests.

The address is an annual speech at the opening of the city's legislature where the pro-Beijing leader lays out policies and bills for the year ahead.

But the speech comes after a summer of huge and increasingly violent democracy protests as popular anger explodes over sliding freedoms and living standards in the financial hub following two decades of Chinese rule.

There is huge pressure on Lam -- who currently boasts historically low approval ratings -- to unveil flagship measures that might lower some of the anger on the streets.

Citing government sources, local media reported that Lam will focus on housing shortages in a city that has one of the least affordable property markets in the world and notoriously high rents.

But major concessions to protesters are unlikely.

At a briefing on Tuesday, Lam stuck to her oft-repeated stance that bending to violent demonstrations would be unacceptable.

"For concessions to be made simply because of escalating violence will only make the situation worse. On the other hand, we should consider every means to end the violence," she said.

Among the core demands of protesters are an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,300 people arrested and the right for Hong Kongers to freely elect their leaders.

Both Lam and Beijing have repeatedly dismissed those demands.

Millions have taken to the streets of Hong Kong, initially against a now-dropped bid by its leaders to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland.

The months-long movement has expanded into a broader pro-democracy push in the territory where activists say freedoms are being eroded by Beijing, contrary to a deal that outlined Hong Kong's 1997 return to China from British colonial rule.

Lam's speech comes after the US House of Representatives passed a bill late Tuesday that aims to defend civil rights in Hong Kong and has drawn rare bipartisan support in a polarised Congress.

China, which has accused "external forces" of fuelling weeks of unrest in the global financial hub, expressed its "strong indignation" over the bill and told Washington to "stop meddling".

The Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act would end Hong Kong's special trading status with the United States unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

It also requires the US president to identify and sanction people who are responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in Hong Kong.

The House also approved a related bill to prohibit the export of certain non-lethal crowd control items such as tear gas to Hong Kong.