HONG KONG – Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam has announced plans to create a new “metropolis” of 2.5 million people near the border with mainland China, seeking to bring the former British colony closer together neighboring towns to stimulate regional development and combat a chronic housing shortage.
In the fifth and final annual political speech of his term on Wednesday, Lam defended the national security law and the political overhaul imposed by Beijing following widespread anti-government protests in 2019, stressing the need to strengthen pride and loyalty in China for Hong Kong. long-term prosperity.
“The double guarantees of the National Security Law and the improved electoral system of the Hong Kong SAR have ushered in a new era in which it is time for us to move forward with renewed perseverance and plan for the future. future of Hong Kong, ”she said, referring to the city’s official status as a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The new “Northern Metropolis” would cover nearly 300 km² along the city’s border with Shenzhen. Envisaged as an international information and technology hub, it would include up to 926,000 apartments and a new rail link to the Qianhai district of Shenzhen.
Hong Kong’s population was 7.39 million as of June 30, down 1.2% from the previous year due to an exodus of residents concerned about the impact of the security law on people. schools and other institutions as well as the city’s strict COVID travel controls.
Beijing announced last month that it intends to expand eight times the area of the Qianhai area, where it is experimenting with financial and other reforms, in order to deepen integration with Hong Kong.
Beijing has regrouped Shenzhen and Hong Kong with Macau, Guangzhou and seven other neighboring mainland cities as part of its development plan for the Great Bay region. It has launched a program of cross-border sales of wealth management products in the region, in part with the aim of stimulating the international use of the yuan.
“The entire Greater Bay Area is trying to work together, consolidating its strength in a number of areas,” said Shen Jianfa, professor of geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is strong in international finance and Shenzhen’s strength lies in innovation, technology and production,” he said. “If it [the Northern Metropolis plan] succeeds, Hong Kong will become a stronger financial center. “
Lam’s focus on housing on Wednesday included plans to increase the supply of land by reviewing areas around rural parks for development and relaxing the rules on the sale of rural land held by clans. She said 96,500 homes will be completed by the end of her five-year term next June, with plans to build 480,000 public and private homes over the next decade.
Hong Kong is one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. Beijing sees the high cost of private apartments as a root cause of the city’s political tensions and social problems, with wait times for public housing reaching nearly six years.
Hannah Jeong, head of Hong Kong advisory services for real estate consultancy Colliers, said the northern metropolis would be “positive news” for the city’s housing supply, but questioned its feasibility .
“We need to assess the feasibility of being able to provide such breakthrough figures,” she said, noting that only four of the 15 residential sites identified at Lam’s address last year had so far gone on sale. .
Researcher Brian Wong of independent think tank Liber Research Community, fears the Northern Metropolis plan will backfire as a housing solution.
“Those [policies] increase cross-border movement, and that automatically creates more demand for housing when you bring people in, ”he said.
Although the National Security Law quashed dissent, with dozens of opposition politicians locked up or forced into exile and many civic organizations forced to disband, Lam said the city would draft a bill. against treason and other offenses not covered by last year’s law, as well as the fight against “fake news” and cybersecurity.
She said that the public broadcaster RTHK will also play a more active role in developing a sense of national identity. Previously independent in its media coverage, the RTHK has been forced to rebroadcast more Chinese state broadcasts and focus on the city government’s patriotic agenda.
Lam also proposed a number of changes to the structure of government, including the creation of a new Bureau of Culture, Sports and Tourism.