HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying pledged to maintain the role of Hong Kong as a "super-connector" between mainland China and the world in an annual speech on the government's agenda for the year, even as pan-democratic lawmakers and demonstrators protested within and outside the Legislative Council, reports said.
In his speech titled 'Uphold the rule of law; seize the opportunities; make the right choices', Mr Leung said democratic development and economic progress in Hong Kong present a host of opportunities for the island "but there are choices we have to make", according to the South China Morning Post.
"As part of China, we benefit from the rapid development of and enjoy preferential treatments from our country; at the same time, we benefit from having a system that is different from other mainland cities," he said in the speech which got off to a late start after pan-democracy lawmakers in the council disrupted the proceedings at the beginning by launching a yellow umbrella protest, and displaying banners asking the CEO to step down and demanding "true universal suffrage".
Protests were also held by around 100 demonstrators outside the Legislative Council building. No pro-democracy Occupy supporters were present, SCMP said.
Mr Leung, handpicked by China, is unpopular in Hong Kong. He is viewed by critics as an ineffectual intermediary in representing and lobbying for Hong Kongers' interests on issues such as autonomy and constitutional reform. He has been charged by pro-democracy academics as "simply toes Beijing's line".
Speaking on democracy, Mr Leung said the government fully recognises the aspirations of young students for democracy and their concerns about political reforms. He called the young activists future pillars of society who should be commended for their merits and corrected when they make mistakes.
"They should be guided towards a full understanding of the constitutional relationship between our country and Hong Kong so that the discussion on constitutional development would not be fruitless," he said.
On economy, he pledged to maintain the role of Hong Kong as a "super-connector" between mainland China and the rest of the world. He also said thegovernment would continue to assist Hong Kong enterprises to develop the mainland market.
"We must maintain Hong Kong's competitiveness in both the international and Mainland markets, and forestall any act that harms the investment and business environment," he said.