Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong over the weekend in protest at a mammoth reclamation project announced by chief executive Carrie Lam last week.
Lam last week outlined plans to create a 1,700 hectare area and homes for a million people by filling in the sea off Lantau Island, which protesters and a former government official have dismissed as "white elephant" infrastructure.
Holding up banners and a large effigy of a white elephant, protesters marched to government headquarters to hand in a petition calling on Lam to cancel the project.
Lam has said the new land created by her HK$500 billion (U.S.$64 billion) Lantau Tomorrow plan would help solve the city's chronic housing shortage.
But the Save Lantau Alliance, which organized Sunday's protest, said the project will drain Hong Kong's coffers and cause environmental damage, without addressing the more immediate need for land, as reclamation takes many years to stabilize.
Alliance convenor Eddie Tse said many other civic groups had joined the march against the plan, which would see artificial islands built in waters east of Lantau Island.
"We would like to call on any citizens who are genuinely angry about this plan to come out in protest. This was a spontaneous citizen protest," Tse told RFA on Sunday.
He said he didn't have an estimate for how many people took part. Hong Kong police put the number at 5,800.
"If you look at how long it took for the tail end of the march to pass by, then you would see how much opposition there is to the plans for eastern Lantau," Tse said.
Tse also called on lawmakers to ask the administration to withdraw the proposal when they debate their response to Lam's annual policy speech in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
A burden for the future
A protester surnamed Liu said she didn't believe the government's claim that the project would benefit future generations.
"We would like to tell the government that the next generation doesn't need this burden," Liu said.
"These artificial islands aren't the only way forward; there is other land that could be used, and they have paid no attention to the wishes of local people."
Liu said Lam appeared to railroading the plan through regardless of public opinion, and that Beijing could be behind the project.
"It's likely that the central government is telling her to do this," she said.
A Chinese University of Hong Kong student surnamed Sin said the government hadn't provided any detailed plans for the site, either.
"There is a lack of transparency around the finances, as well as how the project will be administered," Sin said. "How could they just come up with this project overnight, when it didn't form part of their talk about land before that?"
"There are also other questions ... such as whether it would be affected by climate change," he said.
Not backed by research
Engineer Albert Lai from the independent research group Professional Commons has also said Lam's costing isn't backed up by any research.
"This isn't just a simple case of a white elephant project [that goes to waste]," Lai told RFA on Monday. "We would be mobilizing massive resources that have been accumulated over generations and investing them in the most risky of ventures."
"That is a very dangerous thing to do," he said.
Lai had earlier called for a full cost-benefit analysis for different options to meet the same policy goals, and concluded that the artificial islands project is the most expensive.
Some opposition voices have cited project immigration figures as predicting the arrival of roughly one million new immigrants by the time the project is complete, sparking concern that this forms part of an assimilation strategy masterminded in Beijing. Lam has dismissed these concerns as "conspiracy theories."
Hong Kong ranked highest in the Heritage Foundation's 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, making it the freest economy in the world.
But the Foundation warned that "political interference in recent years" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing had "strained" China's promises to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense policy for 50 years.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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