March 28, 2017 / 4:59 AM / 7 months ago

Hong Kong leader-elect says she's determined to tackle high cost of housing

A man shakes hands with Carrie Lam, chief executive-elect, a day after she was elected in Hong Kong, China March 27, 2017.REUTERS/Bobby Yip

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong-leader elect Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she was “very determined” to tackle the high cost of housing in the densely populated city, among the top concerns of foreign business people working there.

Lam, the Chinese-controlled financial hub’s former chief secretary, was chosen on Sunday by a 1,200-person committee to lead the city, pledging in her victory speech to unite political divisions, illustrated by huge pro-democracy protests in 2014, that have hindered policy-making and legislative work.

Speaking at a Credit Suisse investment conference in Hong Kong, Beijing-backed Lam also said the former British colony faced tough competition from the region and also from mainland Chinese cities which are “becoming very powerful”.

The cost of housing is one of Hong Kong’s biggest social issues and making homes more affordable was among outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying’s top priorities, something he failed to achieve.

Lam said land and labor were two “major bottlenecks” for Hong Kong’s development.

“On the land issue, I am very determined to tackle that in the next term of government in a big way,” she told an audience of 200 financial and business professionals.

“It’s not just looking at the annual land sale program but really, the long-term supply of land, or better still, a land bank for Hong Kong.”

Lam also pledged during her campaign to tackle the problem by increasing land supply.

Lam’s call to mend social divisions suffered a setback a day after she was elected when police on Monday charged nine organizers of the 2014 demonstrations, provoking anger among protesters.

In perhaps her strongest admission to date on China’s perceived behind-the-scenes interference in Hong Kong politics, she told a radio program she knew the Central Liaison Office, China’s top representative office in Hong Kong, had been involved in lobbying legislators in the past.

“We do not need our friends at the Central Liaison Office to worry,” she told reporters after the program, saying she wouldn’t welcome its involvement in Hong Kong affairs under her administration.

Since the 2014 protests, there have also been some calls for independence in the city which operates under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing it freedoms not enjoyed on the Communist Party-ruled mainland.

Lam said if the city started to argue about whether it should become independent, then “we have no common basis to start this common journey to give Hong Kong a better future”.

The next few months will be critical for Leung and Lam, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to pay a visit on July 1 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule, with large protests expected.

The city also had a lot of catching up to do in terms of comprehensive double tax agreements, Lam said. In her victory speech on Sunday, Lam pledged to follow through on her promise to introduce a two-tier profits tax.

Reporting by Venus Wu; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie

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