Wen pledges to help HK, Macau through turmoil

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am

Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged all-out efforts to help Hong Kong and Macau counter the global financial crisis.

Delivering the annual government work report yesterday, the premier said the central government would speed up the construction of cross-border infrastructure such as the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge, the rail link between Hong Kong and Shenzhen airports and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link.

He said the central government would also:

Bring forward the launch of a pilot project allowing trading firms in Hong Kong and Macau to settle deals with counterparts in Guangdong in yuan;

Further open the mainland's service sector to companies in the two special administrative regions (SARs); and

Help Hong Kong and Macau-funded small and medium-sized enterprises on the mainland.

He reiterated the central government's support for Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre and said Beijing would help Macau's economy diversify.

'The motherland will always provide strong backing to Hong Kong and Macau. We firmly believe that our compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau will overcome their current difficulties and create an even brighter future,' the premier told the National People's Congress.

The section dedicated to the two cities was the longest in the annual report since 2004.

It also marked a departure from previous reports, which only briefly stated broad principles, such as implementing the 'one country, two systems' formula and high autonomy for the two SARs.

Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Mr Wen personally ordered the change to convey Beijing's determination to help the two cities in the downturn.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said: 'I am very happy to hear Premier Wen saying the central government will introduce measures to support Hong Kong enterprises on the mainland.'

Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying believed Hong Kong-operated shops and service businesses on the mainland would benefit from central government efforts to boost consumption.

Fellow Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, who heads the city's Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, hoped the support measures Mr Wen announced for small and medium-sized enterprises could be applied to both mainland and Hong Kong firms.

Veteran Macau observer Camoes Tam Chi-keung said it would be extremely difficult for Macau to change its reliance on gaming despite being urged to do so by Beijing.

'Macau got the message long ago,' Dr Tam said. 'But gaming is where its comparative advantage lies.'

Vice-President Xi Jinping called on Macau to diversify when he visited the city in January. The central government has earmarked a site on Zhuhai's Hengqin Island as a base for Macau to diversity its economy.

Dr Tam noted that Macau's former Portuguese administration had tried in vain to diminish the economic dominance of casinos long before the 1999 handover.