Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has sparked a firestorm just hours after announcing a HK$1 billion (US$128.5 million) scholarship program for overseas students in support of China’s plan to build a modern version of the maritime Silk Road.
Critics ripped into Leung when he appeared on a radio program on Thursday to elaborate on his policy address a day earlier in which he unveiled a plan to attract students from countries and regions along Beijing’s planned economic corridor that stretches from Asia to the Middle East and Europe.
They accused Leung of lavish spending at the expense of Hong Kong students whom they said are being overlooked, Ming Pao Daily reports.
New People’s Party leader Regina Ip, who serves on Leung’s cabinet, said the public backlash might have been due to the chief executive’s overemphasis on “One Belt, One Road” which he mentioned 44 times in his speech.
“It would have been enough to devote two paragraphs to the national strategy,” Ip said.
She said Leung’s hard sell might have done “One Belt, One Road” more harm than good.
Leung should have given priority to Hong Kong’s youths over foreign students, she said.
Others criticized Leung for his reluctance to ease home purchase restrictions that include a special stamp duty and higher down payment, which one caller said make home ownership next to impossible.
Another caller said the money for the scholarship fund should have gone to healthcare programs to improve hospital services and hire additional manpower.
A man said he fears a second term for Leung.
“I am not concerned whether CY will run for a second term. I am worried that CY will win,” he said.
Leung defended the scholarship program and denied it is coming at the expense of Hong Kong students.
He said Hong Kong students already receive government grants and incentives to study abroad.
And none of the 100 scholarship places under the new plan will go to mainland students as his critics claim, Leung said.
Leung found an ally in Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan who deflected accusations the chief executive pandered to Beijing in order to win support for a widely expected run for reelection.
Chan said Leung did no such thing, calling any move to ignore the economic benefits of a 21st century Silk Road “stupid”.
However, Chan said he has no plans to invest in the project.
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