Hong Kong more unequal, less free than Carrie Lam leaves office

Hong Kong emerged as more unequal Cityher freedoms have been curtailed and international brilliance tarnished after five years with Carrie Lam at the helm, analysts say, as her turbulent leadership draws to a close.

Lam, Hong Kong’s first female leader, took office promising to heal divisions and tackle livelihood problems, particularly a housing crisis.

Instead, his tenure was dominated by massive democratic protests and subsequent Beijing crackdown, as well as a zero-Covid pandemic strategy that kept the city isolated as rivals reopened.

He is on track to leave in late June with the lowest approval score of any leader since the handover from Britain.

In his latest political speech last October, Lam described Hong Kong as “much stronger than ever” after China stepped in to ensure stability.

Her government survived the mass protest movement, but many say it has failed to deliver on promises of betterment of life, which even the Chinese leadership claims are at the heart of the city’s “deep-seated social conflicts.”

Last year, 1.65 million Hong Kongers – nearly one in four – lived below the government’s official poverty line, which for a one-person household means HK $ 4,400 ($ 560) per month.

This was the highest level since recording began 12 years ago.

“The base has been very neglected,” said Sze Lai-shan, deputy director of the Society for Community Organization.

“Sometimes it seems that (the government) lives on a different planet.”

Pro-establishment figures were also not impressed.

“It can be said that (Lam) has worked very hard, but little has been achieved to resolve Hong Kong’s deteriorating subsistence problems and entrenched conflicts,” Beijing adviser Lau Siu-kai told AFP.

– The most expensive property in the world –

Last July, China’s senior Hong Kong affairs official, Xia Baolong, delivered a speech widely viewed as a reflection of Beijing’s growing impatience for the housing crisis, something every leader has since the 1997 handover. failed to resolve.

The city, Xia said, must “say goodbye” to the cages and tiny shared apartments where some 220,000 Hong Kong residents still reside.

Hong Kong has long held the title of the world’s most inaccessible real estate market, where a study this year showed that the average property price is 23 times the average household income.

Lam increased the supply of public housing, more than its predecessors, but demand still outpaced supply with the waiting time increased to six years.

Chan Kim-ching, a land use researcher at the Liber Research Community, said Lam has placed excessive priority on buying apartments to be built.

“By targeting home ownership, it exacerbated wealth inequality in society,” Chan told AFP.

“(Lam’s) policies do not target those most in need. There is a discrepancy. “

– Exodus –

The last two years of Lam’s tenure also saw a historic outflow of people, fleeing political repression or some of the most stringent pandemic controls in the world.

Departures increased further this year as Hong Kong’s zero-Covid policy collapsed as the more transmissible variant Omicron raided, killing more than 9,000 people, mostly unvaccinated seniors.

In the first three months of the year, 160,000 net people left Hong Kong.

Lam recently acknowledged that the curbs had caused a brain drain among foreign firms, saying it was “an undeniable fact”.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s ongoing efforts to reshape Hong Kong’s political landscape have triggered another wave of emigration among locals.

After the 2019 protests were suppressed, China imposed a broad national security law that criminalized dissent and transformed the once outspoken city.

Police arrested 182 people under the Security Act. Most of the city’s prominent democratic activists are in prison or have fled abroad.

In the annual international press freedom ranking published this week by Reporters Without Borders, Hong Kong has dropped from 80th to 148th.

Frances Hui, an asylum activist in the United States, described Lam as an “obedient guardian” of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s agenda.

“It accelerated the suppression of freedoms,” Hui told AFP.

The Hong Kong diaspora is constantly growing in places like Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

“I didn’t expect that taking part in activism would lead to me having to seek asylum,” Hui said.

“This is a reflection of how far Hong Kong has fallen.”