You think Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has a problem after getting tetchy about repeating herself in English at a Q and A session? That’s nothing. Something far more serious looms – and even her own official press releases seem to be turning against her, shrieking ‘Government must tackle land supply issue!!!!’
Barring a market correction, it’s increasingly clear that Carrie’s major vulnerability is housing. It is potentially the greatest threat she faces, if her enemies use it against her.
Her recent package of measures (like her predecessor’s) were carefully designed to avoid having any visible impact on ever-growing waiting lists for public housing and ever-rising prices for the private sort.
This issue vividly highlights the city’s lack of political representation: Hong Kong people want affordable homes, and fast; the Hong Kong government wants an excuse to spend HK$100 billion on reclaiming land in 10 years’ time. Officials must do all in their power to avoid making housing affordable in order to justify mega-reclamation. (Conceivably, it’s the other way around – the prospect of reclamation somehow ‘justifies’ inaction on affordability. There are several agendas here, but all lead to the basic impulse to ensure high prices.)
Carrie is pre-empting the much-vaunted Land Supply Task Farce by loudly pushing for reclamation. Even supposed allies are expressing doubts. A Standard editorial pointedly states that we can’t wait 15 years and asks about farmland and brownfield sites. Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip has suggested banning non-residents from buying homes. Former politician and businessman James Tien reminds us that the PLA sits on a vast little-used firing-range no-one ever talks about.
Independent experts and activists are calling Carrie out for ignoring obvious remedies like immigration curbs and misleadingly offering a ‘false choice’. And far away on Planet Economic Literacy, there’s a market-based, rational solution guaranteed to freak everyone.
Meanwhile, how should the mainstream pro-democrats use the Legislative Council’s fast-dwindling effectiveness as a platform? Right now, perhaps, to froth at the mouth about whether Carrie should repeat herself in English. Their pro-Beijing colleagues will breathe a sigh of relief at not being forced to choose between people and government on affordable homes.
What would the turnout for the July 1 march have been if the one theme of the demonstration was ‘housing’. Lower or higher? I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure officials are glad that the broad opposition camp is likely to be busy attacking on different fronts.