Addressing the legislature, he said there would be "unimaginable" consequences if all 1.6 million mainland Chinese who the government says are eligible to enter were to arrive in the next 10 years. Experts had told MPs the immigrants could cost Hong Kong, in the midst of a recession, HK$710bn (pounds 57bn) over the next 10 years. The debate over the right of mainland Chinese to live in Hong Kong has posed the most serious challenge to Mr Tung's government and the autonomous legal system since Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997.
In January, Hong Kong's highest court said that under the Basic Law any child of a permanent resident had the right to live in Hong Kong. The government last week estimated 1.6 million mainlanders qualified.
Mr Tung said his government would seek an amendment to the Basic Law, the constitution which took effect after Britain left, or ask China's parliament to impose an interpretation on the constitution which limited an influx of immigrants. Finding a strictly Hong Kong solution would be best, Mr Tung said.
Pro-democracy groups have said they could accept a formal amendment to the constitution, which would take at least a year, but would fiercely oppose a reinterpretation of the Basic Law by the Select Committee of China's National People's Congress (parliament).
Asking the congress to intervene might be faster but the pro-democracy legislator Martin Lee has warned the government that such a move would undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong and encourage more legal intervention by China. (Reuters)Reuse content