The demands by the Hong Kong protesters serve to “humiliate and bring down” the government led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam instead of solving the city’s problems, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking at the Forbes Global CEO Conference on 16 October, Mr Lee said that HK needs to move beyond its “very unfortunate state” and begin to move towards resolving it’s problems, from the implementation of the “One Country, Two System” policy to social and economic issues.
For the past four months, the special administrative region of Hong Kong has been rocked by pro-democracy protests which started off as a rally against the extradition bill which has since been shelved. Now, the protest has developed into calls for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.
The five demands that the protesters have made include a total withdrawal of the extradition bill (which has been done), the resignation of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive, an inquiry into police brutality during the protests, the release of those arrested during the course of the protests, and greater democratic freedoms.
Responding to a question by Mr Steve Forbes on the events in Hong Kong, Mr Lee says he doesn’t see an easy way forward given that protesters are clashing with the government but not providing tangible solutions.
He said, “The demonstrators, they say there are five major demands, and not one can be compromised. But those are not demands which are meant to be a programme to solve Hong Kong’s problems. Those are demands which are intended to humiliate and bring down the government.”
He went on to question what would happen once those demands are met, saying that some protesters might admit to not having any plans but are simply protesting because they are unhappy.
Mr Lee said the city has to start tackling the problems that people in Hong Kong are unhappy about, narrowing it down to three areas: the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, universal suffrage, and social and economic issues facing residents, especially youths.
On the administrative system, Mr Lee suggested that stakeholders on both sides have to come to a compromise, as the principle is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
“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, they must not only think of two systems, but remember that this is one country’.”
As for universal suffrage, Mr Lee says there is no simple solution. While people want the right to elect their own leaders, which was the core of the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, Mr Lee highlighted that Hong Kong’s status as a Special Administrative Region means it is not a country of its own and that it has to function within that specific framework.
Mr Lee does, however, think universal suffrage can work in Hong Kong and that it should at least be attempted.
“If it’s not made to work, then I think it’s very difficult to imagine that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ can continue for another 22 years until 2047,” he said.
He is, of course, referring to the year the principle expires, under the agreement between Britain and China when the British handed over HK to the Chinese.
Finally, Mr Lee explained that there are solutions available to address the social problems plaguing Hong Kong, especially housing. Though he did not get into specifics, Mr Lee said those solutions would require ‘political courage’ as those moves will come with significant consequences, social and economic.
“And so far, the SAR government has gone for conservative approaches, and the problem has not really significantly improved,” he said.
But before anything can be done, Mr Lee said that “temperatures” needed to come down first so that Hongkongers can work together.