April 11, 2017 / 9:32 AM / 4 months ago

New China-backed leader of Hong Kong says no room for independence

Newly elected Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives to meet current leader Leung Chun-ying in Hong Kong, China March 27, 2017.Bobby Yip

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader-elect Carrie Lam said on Tuesday there is no room for moves towards independence in the former British colony which she said needs the support of the central government in Beijing to boost economic development over the next five years.

Leaders in Beijing have been increasingly concerned about a fledgling independence movement in the financial hub that returned to mainland rule in 1997 with a promise of autonomy.

Hong Kong has seen tumultuous times over the past couple of years, with pro-democracy protests quelled, an increase in what many residents see as creeping interference by Beijing and the rise of a small but vocal movement pushing for independence.

"On the issue of Hong Kong independence, in line with what the premier has said, there is no future and no room," Lam told reporters in Beijing after Premier Li Keqiang presented her with a letter of appointment as chief executive, paving the way for her to take office on July 1.

"In the next five years, in particular in economic development, there are many areas in which we need support from the central government," added Lam, who also met President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese-controlled city's former chief secretary was chosen in March to become its first female leader by a 1,200-person "election committee" stacked with pro-Beijing and pro-establishment loyalists.

Lam has said unifying society and healing political divisions would be among her most urgent tasks. Making housing more affordable in one of the world's most expensive property markets is also among her top priorities.

Huge pro-democracy protests in late 2014 brought parts of the city to a standstill and hindered policy-making and legislative work.

The promotion of independence has long been taboo in Hong Kong amid fears in Beijing the notion could spread to activists in other places and become a challenge to central government rule.

The next few months will be critical for incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying and Lam, with Xi expected to visit on July 1 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule, with protests expected.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Donny Kwowk in Hong Kong, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie

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