It was all about “One Belt One Road” as Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying delivered his fourth Policy Address on Wednesday – the term was mentioned over 40 times in his two-and-a-half-hour speech. However, the minds of some pan-democrat lawmakers were not on the hot new Chinese policy as they repeatedly interrupted Leung, demanding he respond to the recent disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers.
One Belt One Road, a Beijing initiative to strengthen cooperation with countries along the ancient silk road and the new “maritime silk road”, presents unique opportunities for Hong Kong, Leung said.
“As a highly open economy with extensive and strong external connections, Hong Kong uniquely demonstrates the characteristics of ‘two systems’ among our country’s many cities. The HKSAR Government will play an active role to facilitate the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative.”
The city should take part in building infrastructure and pursuing free trade agreements with “Belt and Road” countries, Leung said.
On the education front, the government plans to provide scholarships for students in “Belt and Road” countries to study at Hong Kong universities, Leung added. Local students will also be encouraged to go to “Belt and Road” countries for exchange programmes.
The CE also announced a free kindergarten education policy. The government will provide eligible local non-profit-making kindergartens with a basic subsidy for a three-year quality half-day service for all eligible children. “It is estimated that about 70% to 80% of the places in half-day kindergartens will become free-of-charge.” Leung said.
Another focus was on the development of the high-tech industry. Leung vowed to support start-ups through the Science Park and Cyberport projects.
“Cyberport will allocate HK$200 million to launch a Cyberport Macro Fund for investment in its ICT start-ups, while the government will set aside HK$2 billion to set up an Innovation and Technology Venture Fund for co-investing with private venture capital funds on a matching basis.”
In November, the government launched the new Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB) amid controversy. The ITB will strive to make Hong Kong a smart city, Leung said. Measures proposed include “providing free Wifi services at bus stops and shopping arcades, opening up more public data to facilitate development of user-friendly mobile applications (apps) for the public, and developing intelligent homes.” The government will double the number of Wifi hotspots in the city to 34,000 in three years.
There was good news for conservationists as Leung said his government will forward legislation to ban the import and export of ivory. “The government will kickstart legislative procedures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies and actively explore other appropriate measures, such as enacting legislation to further ban the import and export of ivory and phase out the local ivory trade, and imposing heavier penalties on smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species.”
WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: “Hong Kong has always been the epicenter of [the ivory] trade, so we congratulate CY Leung and the government for this historic step”.