Li Keqiang

Both parties can enjoy what is in the big gift box

While the city has received help from Beijing, its contribution should not be forgotten

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Discourse may matter in the dynamic between Hong Kong and the mainland. At Premier Li Keqiang's maiden press conference on March 17, Phoenix Satellite Television host Tiger Hu Yihu likened the 36 measures to boost economic ties between Hong Kong and the mainland, announced by Li during his visit to the city in 2011, to a "big gift box".

Hu, the only Hong Kong-based journalist to have the chance to put the question to the newly-elected premier, raised some eyebrows when he went on to ask what "gift" the central government would give Hong Kong in future.

The message behind Li's reply went largely unnoticed, even among political commentators. The premier said Hu's description of the economy-boosting measures to a "big gift box" was "very vivid".

Li went on to say "one has to take the goods in the gift box out one by one in order to make good and full use of them".

Li's predecessor, Wen Jiabao had refused to compare the central government's measures to boost cross-border economic ties to a "gift". After overseeing the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa) at Government House in Hong Kong in June 2003, Wen said: "Some people described Cepa as a 'big gift'. But in my opinion, the genuine 'big gift' is the unswerving determination of the new leadership to implement 'one country, two systems, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong and the high degree of autonomy".

Wen repeated the message in 2004.

The central government has introduced a series of measures to help revitalise, or "prop up" in the eyes of some mainlanders, Hong Kong's economy since the Sars outbreak in 2003.

Some mainlanders, who are unhappy with the central government granting favours to Hong Kong in the past decade, dub Hongkongers as a group of people waiting for endless goodies from Beijing.

The controversial question raised by Hu and Li's reply struck a nerve as the last thing many Hongkongers want is to be viewed as going cap in hand to the mainland authorities.

The subtle change in discourse marked by Li's response might reinforce the perception of some mainlanders that Hong Kong people are begging for favours from the mainland.

It speaks volumes to the importance of stepping up "internal diplomacy", or what Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called "homeland relationship".

While the share of Hong Kong's investment on the mainland does not compare with the early phase of the mainland's reform and opening-up process, Hong Kong's contribution to the country's modernisation, particularly its service industry, in recent years and the years ahead should not be easily forgotten.

Wrapping up his five-day visit to Beijing on Wednesday, Leung stressed that he made it clear to mainland officials that the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland must involve mutual gains and he hoped Hong Kong could contribute to the nation's development.

Leung said earlier that Beijing's measures to boost Hong Kong's economy are having a wider impact - helping the entire country to modernise.