December 22, 2017 / 7:14 AM / a year ago

Hong Kong leader says she won't blindly obey Beijing's orders

HONG KONG, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she would not blindly obey the orders of Communist Party leaders in Beijing, while admitting the government has no way to suppress skyrocketing prices in one of the most expensive property markets in the world.

Lam was sworn in by Chinese President Xi Jinping in July as the former British colony celebrated 20 years of Chinese rule under the principle of “one country, two systems”, which promises the city a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in the mainland.

While a recent poll shows the new chief executive is more popular than her predecessor, some accuse her of being a puppet of Beijing amid perceptions of Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs. Specifically, they criticise her for pushing an arrangement that will allow Chinese officials to enforce Chinese laws in a high speed railway station due to open next year.

Lam, in an interview with the government-funded RTHK, said she was accountable to both the Hong Kong public and Beijing, but she would not blindly obey the central authorities.

“Being accountable doesn’t mean you have to do everything you’re told,” Lam said. “So you can’t say you’ll do whatever the Central Government (says).

“If the Central Government asks me to do something that I think is beyond what Hong Kong people can bear or against Hong Kong’s developmental interests, then of course I have the duty to tell the Central Government and fight for a more favourable arrangement for Hong Kong.”

Lam also said she did not plan to kickstart legislation for a controversial national security law in 2018, and urged people not to “demonise” it.

Asked about Hong Kong’s red-hot property market, where prices have shot up more than 12 percent over the past year and are expected to climb another 10 percent in 2018, Lam said the government was helpless in reversing the trend.

“The government really has no ways to curb property prices... The government has introduced a few rounds of cooling measures, but they did not suppress prices, and quite the contrary now some people say these measures have pushed up prices.”

The government’s mixed bag of tax and regulatory policies, on top of eight rounds of mortgage tightening measures by the city’s defacto central bank since 2009, has effectively locked up supply in the secondary housing market.

Lam also said that while she has never promised to suppress property prices, she would seek more land to boost long-term housing supply.

“I’ve never said I want to turn around the increase in property prices, because there are many factors contributing to that. But I want to turn around how supply falls short of demand, or, simply put, insufficient supply,” Lam said.

Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie

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