Protest demands unrealistic, says Singapore leader

Top News | BLOOMBERG 18 Oct 2019

Protesters are making unrealistic demands in an effort to take down the Hong Kong government, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says.

"Those are not demands which are meant to be a program to solve Hong Kong's problems," Lee said at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore.

"Those are demands which are intended to humiliate and bring down the government. And then what?"

What began as a series of marches in Hong Kong against a proposal to allow extraditions to the mainland has grown into a broader challenge to Beijing's grip on the city. Four months of unrest have brought regular scenes of tear gas, vandalism and transit network disruptions.

Hong Kong's demonstrators have called for an independent inquiry into the violence, an amnesty for those charged during the unrest, rescinding the categorization of those taking part as "rioters" and the ability to nominate and elect their leaders.

Lee called for Hongkongers to solve problems gradually, including respect for the one country, two systems framework, universal suffrage and housing in one of the world's most expensive markets.

"As one Hongkonger put it very neatly, from China's point of view they must not only think of one country but remember that this is two systems and from Hong Kong's point of view, you must not only think of two systems, but remember that this is one country," he said to applause.

"And that calls for wisdom and constraint on both sides."

Lee also said that Hong Kong would need to find political courage to solve its housing problems.

"You must be prepared to make changes which will have very significant social and economic consequences, and so far the [Hong Kong government has] gone for conservative approaches and the problem has not really significantly improved," he said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday announced measures aimed at reducing the cost of living for poorer members of the city, a bid to address some of the underlying economic issues that have helped fuel discontent.

She plans to boost compulsory land purchases for housing, relax mortgage rules for first-time home buyers, give cash to students and increase subsidies for low-income families.

Singapore, which competes with Hong Kong as a center of finance in Asia, has faced criticism by human rights groups for taking a heavy hand to block dissent and suppress free speech.

It has the second most expensive residential housing market in the world behind Hong Kong, according to research by CBRE.

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