Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

What Premier Li Keqiang DIDN'T say about Hong Kong: key 'autonomy' phrases missing from report

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 2:13pm

Premier Li Keqiang's maiden work report raised questions about Hong Kong's promised "high degree of autonomy".

This phrase and another key phrase in Beijing's post-handover mantra, "the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong", were left out for the first time since the last work report of then premier Zhu Rongji in 2003.

In his final work report last year, Li's predecessor, Wen Jiabao, included both phrases.

The omission was played down by several Beijing officials. Speaking later in Beijing, Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, and Chen Zuoer, chairman of the National Association of Study on Hong Kong and Macau and a former deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, emphasised that Li's report did not indicate any change in policy on Hong Kong or Macau.

In his address to the opening of the annual NPC session, Li's mention of Hong Kong and Macau focused on the promise to "unswervingly" implement the principles of "one country, two systems" and "fully and faithfully carry out the Basic Laws" of the two special administrative regions, while maintaining their prosperity and stability.

Zhu also referred only to "one country, two systems" in 2003.

Zhang Xiaoming, head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, said on Thursday morning that there was no need to repeat phrases such as “Hongkongers governing Hong Kong” or to note that the city enjoys “a high degree of autonomy” every time officials mention the principle of “one country, two systems”.

"I understand that the people of Hong Kong are worried about it. But the phrases were left out only to simplify the wording of the report. It doesn’t mean any change in the central government’s policy on Hong Kong," he said.

Li's omission fuelled speculation in some quarters because it came a day after Zhang Dejiang , speaking in his capacity as head of the Communist Party's leading group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said Hong Kong enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, but not full autonomy. Zhang is also NPC chairman.

Speaking separately, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the national legislature's Basic Law Committee and a former Hong Hong secretary for justice, took a similar stance to Zhang Xiaoming.

"It isn't necessary to mention the phrase every year … or include all principles of the Basic Law in the report," she said.

Asked whether the omission could be related to Zhang Dejiang's comment on Tuesday, Leung said the "high autonomy" principle had been mentioned repeatedly and "reporters shouldn't be overly sensitive about it".

In his report yesterday, Li promised to "support the chief executives and governments of the two regions in governing in accordance with the law, energetically developing the economy, improving people's wellbeing, advancing democracy in accordance with the law and maintaining social harmony".

He also pledged to further increase co-operation between the mainland and the cities.

The promises looked like a boost for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who attended the session with 200 Hong Kong NPC deputies and delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.