Hong Kong must engage with China’s grand plans for the national economy – and that doesn’t mean being brainwashed

Beijing has broken with past practice by pushing Hong Kong and Macau to get more involved with nationwide development plans, and we should all heed the message

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 7:22pm

When a ministerial-level Chinese Communist Party theorist came down to Hong Kong to brief officials here on the ruling party’s latest decisions, the city might not have been aware it was the same for neighbouring Macau.

Another senior official from the Development Research Centre of the State Council was simultaneously giving a similar briefing to Macau government officials and representatives from different sectors on the recently concluded 19th party congress.

Hong Kong and Macau being the two only special administrative regions governed by the same ruling formula of “one country, two systems”, these events understandably raised some eyebrows as they marked the very first time since their respective handovers to Chinese sovereignty that Beijing mobilised its representatives to “educate” the two cities on party documents in such a high-profile manner.

Beijing seeks better understanding of Communist Party’s work and goals from Hong Kong establishment

Like it or not, this is a new reality for the two cities. They will have to realise that under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, one country, two systems can no longer be used as a shield to avoid learning more about the overall development direction that the country and party are taking.

So when Leng Rong, head of the party’s literature research office, together with Wang Zhimin, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, went into government headquarters last Thursday to brief the city’s establishment on Xi’s political report to the party congress in October, it was not only the first event of its kind but could also herald the start of more to come.

Briefing lined up for senior Hong Kong officials on Xi Jinping’s Communist Party congress report

After the twice-a-decade gathering of the party, which further consolidated the power of Xi, who has set the ambitious goal for China’s rejuvenation and transformation into a strong nation by the middle of the century, Beijing has started a nationwide propaganda campaign by sending officials to all provinces to further explain the president’s thought and implications of his speech.

Hong Kong and Macau were not exempted this time, signalling a clear departure from Beijing’s previous thinking that under one country, two systems, the two cities did not have to be “taught” party theory and policymaking.

Also, for quite some time, Beijing has been hesitant to include Hong Kong in the national development plan, since Hong Kong is a capitalist, free economy while the mainland is a “socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics”, which means government policies, or “macroeconomic control”, prevails.

By the same consideration, quite a few people, including officials in Hong Kong, are still concerned that the city may lose its edge if it is subject to too much planning by the mainland.

These can be valid concerns in theory, but in reality the collective wisdom of both Beijing and Hong Kong is required to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement that does not undermine the city’s free economy.

This explains why back in 2011, the country’s 12th five-year plan for the first time devoted an entire chapter to the roles of Hong Kong and Macau in the national economic development strategy. That was when Beijing broke the taboo against planning for the two cities and the country together due to the different natures of their respective systems.

The latest trend reveals a new message: Beijing now believes Hong Kong and Macau should no longer be exempted from better understanding China’s ruling party, since it sets practically all major policy directions, political or economic. The 19th party congress is a perfect case study in that sense.

There’s a clear difference between learning about the mainland and being “brainwashed” as some fear – Hongkongers should be smart enough to draw the line.