Hong Kong should step up integration with the mainland to reboot the economy following the pandemic and civil unrest, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in her fourth Policy Address yesterday.
Having postponed the Policy Address from October 14 to allow discussion with mainland authorities, Lam announced measures to boost the aviation industry, ease cross-border transport and provide incentives for youngsters to work in the Greater Bay Area through new employment and funding schemes.
She took two hours and 15 minutes to deliver the 24,000-word Policy Address in the Legislative Council, entitled "Striving ahead with renewed perseverance."
It was much longer than the 40-minute speeches in her previous three policy addresses.
Lam said the city has experienced unprecedented crises, including last year's social unrest and economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as acts that endangered national security due to inference by external forces.
It was understandable that people have worries and anxieties and lose confidence in the future. "As such, the primary objective of this Policy Address is to look at ways to get Hong Kong out of the impasse and to restore people's confidence as soon as possible," she said.
But the road to economic recovery was still fraught with difficulties, she said.
The mainland will bring new impetus to Hong Kong's economic development as the SAR has the central government's full support.
"There will be an end to the difficult times and the rainbow will emerge after the storm,'' she said.
The priorities in the coming year would be for the government to double its efforts to get the epidemic under control, revive the economy, restore social order and rebuild Hong Kong's international reputation and people's confidence in the government.
Lam listed the results achieved during her Beijing trip earlier this month, including promoting the Greater Bay Area development and enhancing the SAR's international aviation hub status.
The government will also facilitate Hong Kong private cars traveling to Guangdong via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and implement co-location at the new Huanggang control point in Shenzhen.
The government will also make it easier for Hong Kong enterprises to tap the mainland market and resume travel between Hong Kong and Guangdong gradually by mutual recognition of health codes. Some mainland vaccines will be reserved for Hong Kong.
The Airport Authority will be allowed to inject equity in the Zhuhai Airport on the basis of market principles for achieving greater synergy between the two airports.
It is understood the authority will announce the investment details next week. Government sources said Zhuhai Airport has 70 domestic routes but no international routes, while Hong Kong International Airport has 250 routes, including about 50 mainland routes.
Through this cooperation, Hong Kong can help attract more passengers and freight demand.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China has agreed to prepare for commercial helicopter services between Guangdong and Hong Kong to make the Greater Bay Area a more attractive market for the international community.
The Airport Authority will also develop facilities on the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities Island of the mega bridge such as automated car parks. An autonomous transport system will be built connecting the island, airport, Skycity and Tung Chung town center.
A quota-free scheme is planned for Hongkongers to drive to Guangdong using the mega bridge, and will consider extending the scheme to other Hong Kong/Shenzhen land boundary control points later.
Co-location arrangements at the new Huanggang control point in Shenzhen will release more than 20 hectares of land at the Hong Kong control point for other uses.
Explaining her Policy Address at a press conference yesterday, Lam said: "Whenever I mentioned the central government in the Policy Address, the starting point is to care about people of Hong Kong.
"I sought support from the central government to help Hong Kong to integrate into the Greater Bay Area and the development of the country. The starting point is also because of Hong Kong people," she said.
If Hong Kong wants to restore its economy, the biggest opportunity is in the mainland, not from other shrinking economies, Lam said.
Asked if she will visit Beijing before delivering her Policy Address in future, Lam said she sought support from Beijing this year as Hong Kong has experienced multiple blows, including social unrest, pandemic and the sanctions by the United States.
No pan-democrat lawmakers attended Lam's speech yesterday after resigning en masse earlier this month when four of their colleagues were disqualified by the SAR government, but responded to reporters' questions outside the Legco building.
The Civic Party said that Lam's address was only to embrace the Greater Bay Area and seemed irrelevant to Hongkongers, while the Democratic Party said it was not a Policy Address to Hongkongers.
Pro-establishment lawmakers welcomed the Policy Address, saying it was comprehensive, while the pan-democrats criticized it as overly reliant on the mainland.