Integration test for Guangdong chief
From the rust belt province of Liaoning to China’s innovation powerhouse, Li Xi must be mindful of Hong Kong and its ‘one country, two systems’ formula
Of all the top-level promotions following the leadership shake-up at last month’s Communist Party national congress, one that resonates deeply in Hong Kong is the new party chief for Guangdong, anchor of the Greater Bay Area development scheme and spearhead of Beijing’s push for regional integration. The post, and elevation to the Politburo, went to Li Xi, 61, an ally of President Xi Jinping, who is young enough to go further at the next party congress in 2022.
His promotion from party chief of the rust belt province of Liaoning to the industrial, technological and innovation powerhouse of Guangdong may reflect the confidence top leaders have in him, but it is also a challenge. In helping forge further integration and cooperation with the mainland crucial to Hong Kong’s economic growth, he will need to be mindful of the unique situation under “one country, two systems”. At the personal level, experience in governing a region such as Guangdong should do his career prospects no harm.
Top-level endorsement leaves no doubt that the Greater Bay Area is a major priority. With Xi’s backing, Li will be in a strong position to push for changes needed to pave the way and overcome resistance from vested interests. Cooperation between Hong Kong and Guangdong has already been boosted under the 13th five-year plan and is bound to gain further momentum from the upcoming 20th plenary of the Hong Kong Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference. The 19th, last year, marked a new level of closer links in areas including health, the environment, tourism, education and food safety. Hopefully, for Hong Kong’s competitiveness, Li will support efforts to strengthen ties in technology and innovation.
The Greater Bay Area concept envisages a megacity cluster covering nine cities in southern Guangdong as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says her government will play its part by opening up potential new growth areas and enabling people to live, work and study on the mainland.
Li is an MBA with a background as a reformist who has served in both the poor areas of Gansu and Liaoning but also in Shanghai. This should stand him in good stead in Guangdong, where an important task will be to balance the development of affluent areas with that of the less developed ones. He burnished his forceful reformist credentials in Liaoning by slimming the bureaucracy by 10 per cent.
Over the next five years Li can push regional integration with greater efforts to narrow Guangdong’s remaining wealth gaps, which have become a development bottleneck, and by consolidating its position as the country’s centre of innovation.