Hong Kong leader fights uphill battle in maiden policy speech

Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:00am EST
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By James Pomfret and Grace Li

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Embattled Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying unveiled measures to increase land supply to bring down property prices and called for closer economic integration with China on Wednesday in a maiden policy speech likely to win him as many foes as friends.

Leung, who took office in July on a platform of making housing more affordable, unveiled policies aimed at reviving his reputation after several scandals, mass protests and a failed impeachment in his first six months in office.

Hundreds of protesters surrounded the legislature as Leung spoke, some demanding he resign.

"His major liability is that a substantial segment of the pro-democracy camp and a considerable segment of the population simply do not trust him and want him go," said political scientist Joseph Cheng.

Whatever Leung had to offer, it was bound to be divisive - his pledge to rein in property prices has pitted him against powerful property tycoons such as Li Ka-shing, who stood by the Hong Kong leader's main rival and early front-runner Henry Tang in the leadership poll in March.

His call for closer integration with Communist Party-ruled mainland China comes at a time when many Hong Kong people are increasingly seeking to stake out a distinct identity for the city and taking to the streets to demand it.

And the Beijing-backed Leung offered nothing for opposition forces pushing for universal suffrage, something China has promised by 2017.

"As neighbors, Hong Kong and Guangdong province are mutually dependent and complementary to each other," Leung said of the bordering mainland Chinese province. "As such, there is far-reaching strategic significance in enhancing and deepening our co-operation.   Continued...

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying listens to a question from a lawmaker at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip