Hong Kong's leader has said developers have been more cooperative with the government lately in trying to boost housing supply, but steered clear of directly commenting on a report claiming Beijing was piling pressure on the city's property tycoons to back its interests.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked if Beijing had indeed used a closed-door meeting to order local property tycoons to put their resources and influence into central government efforts and help solve the city's housing woes, as reported by Reuters.
According to the report, developers were also told "the rules of the games have changed" and that Beijing would no longer tolerate "monopoly behaviour".
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
Hong Kong's stock market on Monday was rattled, with the Hang Seng Property sub-index tumbling 6.7 per cent, its lowest level in more than five years. Major developers Henderson Land, Sun Hung Kai and New World Development each plunged by at least 10 per cent.
But Lam on Tuesday said she could neither verify nor comment on what she called "rumours".
"All I can say is that the central government cares a lot about Hong Kong's livelihood issues. It wants to boost the city's governance and solve the livelihood issues after improving our electoral system," she said, noting the city's well-known housing woes were a top priority.
The lack of affordable housing is one of the most pressing problems facing Hong Kong, the world's most expensive property market, and has been publicly identified as the key focus of the final year of her term in office.
"Developers do hold lands, but we can take them back if needed for public housing," she said, referring to the power granted to the government under the Lands Resumption Ordinance.
That option was first mooted in 2019 amid pressure to get tough on developers hoarding sites.
"If you asked me, I have served as the development chief and have dealt with developers over the past years. They are now more willing to cooperate with the government policies."
She pointed to the fact that more than half of the land being used to provide 15,000 transitional homes by 2023 were actually lent by developers.
"I hope these public-private partnerships will be more effective following the electoral overhaul," Lam said, referring to the Beijing-decreed shake-up aimed at ensuring only "patriots" ruled the city.
The relationship between local developers and Beijing has been in the spotlight since the electoral overhaul, which drastically diluted the former's influence in the city's leadership race.
Once known as kingmakers for their influence on the Election Committee tasked with picking the city's leader, the tycoons were marginalised after the central government reserved more than 1,000 of the body's now 1,500 seats for loyalists and local representatives of national organisations.
The Post has previously reported that developers have been under pressure to contribute to increasing land supply for housing developments, while the city's most influential business families have been restricted to having just two members each on the committee.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong elections: 'Patriots' may have triumphed, but 'lazy' candidates shouldn't take seats for granted, Beijing adviser says
- Hong Kong now has a powerful Election Committee. Will it be a new 'superstructure' reshaping city's political landscape?