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Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung speaks to Radio Television Hong Kong. [PHOTO COURTESY OF RTHK]

HONG KONG – The city"s chief secretary for administration on Sunday expressed his confidence that the special administrative region will eventually recover from political unrest it has been undergoing since June.

Speaking on the Letter to Hong Kong broadcast on Radio Television Hong Kong, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government had already responded to the public"s opposition against the extradition bill by announcing its withdrawal.

"Responding to strong public sentiment, the government suspended all work on the bill in mid-June and declared its death in early July." On Sept 4, the chief executive announced the bill"s withdrawal, he said.

"I believe that many of you would share my feeling that the year 2019 has been a year of unremitting shocks and turbulence to our community and our economy. Indeed, it has been a severely testing time for all in Hong Kong," he said.

Despite withdrawal of the bill, unprecedented violence and reckless destruction became the norm. "Radical protesters attacked police officers as well as police stations and facilities with petrol bombs, iron bars, bricks and chemicals. Some even used high-tension slingshots, bows and arrows. During the past six months or so, over 2,600 people were injured in the social unrest, including over 500 police officers."

Pointing out that public infrastructure and transport including 85 heavy rail stations and 62 light rail stations, and countless shops, restaurants and shopping malls had been repeatedly vandalized, he said masked protesters battered the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel in November, shutting it down for two full weeks.

It took a total of 800 government staff and contractor"s workers some 100 hours to carry out emergency repair round-the-clock before the tunnel could be reopened, said Cheung. "At the same time, nearby Polytechnic University was overrun by radical protesters. The same happened to the Chinese University."

"Apart from recklessly damaging our universities, violent protesters turned the two campuses into arsenals on a frightening scale. When the last of the protesters finally left the universities, police seized altogether nearly 8,000 petrol bombs plus numerous explosives, hundreds of bottles of corrosive liquid and weapons of all sorts."

Noting that this level of premeditated and organized destruction and violence could hardly be tolerated in any country or economy that upholds the rule of law, the chief secretary said: "Hong Kong, I am proud to say, is among those economies that believe passionately in the primacy of rule of law. It safeguards our economy, our community, our families and our way of life."

Rule of law is among the SAR"s much cherished core values, "alongside our fiercely independent judiciary, clean government, level playing field for business and enviable freedoms. These freedoms, as enshrined in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, include freedom of speech, of the press and free flow of information; freedom of association and assembly; free trade and free port; free flow of capital; freely convertible currency; freedom of religious belief and free education".

Hong Kong has also been the freest economy in the world continuously for 25 years, he pointed out, adding that the unique "one country, two systems" formula has been functioning well and we enjoy the best of both worlds.

But despite the social unrest, Hong Kong"s institutional strengths remain robust and intact, he said. "Our fundamentals stay sound and strong. We still enjoy a high rating in various areas by international think tanks and agencies."

"Allow me to say that whilst Hong Kong may not have the full semblance of Western democracy, we do enjoy for a very long time the full substance of real freedom which underpins Hong Kong"s success."

Over the past six months, police gave greenlight to most of the requests for public meetings, processions and protests. When the requests were not approved, it was generally done with the hope to prevent violence, ensuring peace and public order, he said.

Talking on the Nov 24 District Council Election, which saw a record high turnout, Cheung said, "My colleagues and I are looking forward to working with all new District Council members."

"While we will continue to engage different sectors of society through our usual channels, the government will broaden and rejuvenate our communication with the public." He also pointed out that other top government officials have started a dialogue with the public through Facebook live.

"You will certainly see more of us listening and responding to people"s views and concerns on these and other communication channels in the coming year."

Regarding theIndependent Review Committee which will look into the causes and full circumstances of the social unrest and probe Hong Kong"s deep-seated social conflicts, he said the committee would recommend ways to address the real and long-entrenched community concerns that underlie the discord.

Pointing out that businesses and people in Hong Kong are yearning for the restoration of peace and order and the recovery of the city"s economy, the chief secretary said the government launched four rounds of relief measures since August. "These added up to more than $25 billion. A number of the measures which will benefit grassroots families and small and medium enterprises will be implemented at the beginning of the New Year."

"There are deep-seated issues that we must acknowledge and resolve if we are to end the prolonged social unrest that has shaken the familiar Hong Kong which we all love and cherish," he said, asking all to be patient in helping the city to heal.

Saying that the first report of the Independent Police Complaints Council to come out soon, he added: "And we have research and concrete recommendations of the Independent Review Committee ahead of us."

"Working together, I am confident that we can rebuild, reclaim and rejuvenate the remarkably resilient spirit of Hong Kong," the chief secretary said wishing all "a New Year blessed with peace, harmony and goodwill."

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