Xi Jinping passed up chance to meet Leung Chun-ying in Guangdong

After 2003 Article 23 row, leaders were keen to sound out HK officials when in Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 5:44am

The visit by Xi Jinping, the new party chief, to Guangdong recently was significant. It was interesting both for what he did and what he didn't do.

While confirming to the outside world that China will continue with reforms under his leadership, he also raised hopes for further Hong Kong-Guangdong co-operation, especially when he urged the province "to learn from the rich experience of the service industries in Hong Kong".

Should this serve as a wake-up call to our city? Hong Kong lives by its service industries. Our financial, legal, tourism and related sectors have made the city - a place without natural resources - a unique and prosperous metropolis with excellent rule of law.

But what does it mean when our good neighbour, Guangdong, is trying to catch up in the same fields? From a positive point of view, it means the pie will be getting bigger. But that does not necessarily guarantee that Hong Kong will get a bigger slice.

Although Xi was echoing Deng Xiaoping by following his exact route through southern China 20 years ago, he went to two special new sites: Qianhai in Shenzhen and Hengqin in Zhuhai . Both are supposed to be examples of the latest experimental reform projects, especially Qianhai, which is to be a new financial centre with "very special" regulations to be worked out together with Hong Kong by making full use of our expertise.

While in Qianhai, Xi told local officials: "Please carry out reform boldly. The central government has granted you very special policies. Qianhai will be a place for renewal of the service industries [on the mainland]".

However, the public does not seem very interested in what is going on with our neighbours yet. Perhaps that's because the chief executive is facing political bombs one after another, with the latest a controversial government request to the Court of Final Appeal to seek an interpretation of the right of abode from the National People's Congress.

It is under such circumstances that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will make his first duty report to Beijing this week. National leaders will voice unchanged support for Leung, who faces an uphill battle to regain popularity after the scandal involving illegal structures at his properties. But they will also remind Hong Kong to take the opportunities offered by the mainland's continuing reforms for better economic growth.

The media and some analysts were puzzled why Xi didn't set up a meeting with Leung during his five-day stay in Guangdong.

After the massive rally against a national security law in 2003 in Hong Kong, Beijing felt an urgent need to keep a closer eye on the city. Top officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs would come down to Shenzhen to have "casual and private" talks with officials from Hong Kong to capture the mood of the city. Xi, it is thought, prefers more formal meetings.

Hopefully Beijing will fully acknowledge the intensifying social and political conflicts in Hong Kong before reaching a proper judgment on its policies towards the city.