Shanghai free-trade zone

Hong Kong urged to boost competitiveness as Shanghai Free-trade Zone looms

Hong Kong urged to enhance competitiveness and work harder to prepare for the challenge of the looming free-trade zone in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 3:21pm

The head of the nation's top consultative body has advised Hong Kong people to stay united and work harder to prepare for challenges from the free-trade zone in Shanghai.

The remarks yesterday by Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, marked the second such call in two days from a top mainland leader.

Yu told a delegation from the Friends of Hong Kong Association in Beijing that the city must enhance its competitiveness in light of China's continual opening-up.

"Mr Yu called on us to stay united and comply with the Basic Law under all circumstances," said Chan Wing-kee, the association's permanent honorary chairman. "[He] said Hong Kong must enhance its competitiveness as the country continues to open up. The state leader said the fortune of Hong Kong is closely intertwined with that of the country."

Yu's remarks echoed those made by Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, who told the same delegates on Tuesday that Hong Kong should think about whether it wanted to focus on political struggle or on economic development.

Chan said an hour-long discussion in the CPPCC hall yesterday did not touch on the city's looming political reform.

He said Yu, a member of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee and former Shanghai party secretary, issued the unity call in response to expressions of anxiety from some members about the impact of the free-trade zone.

The new plan is expected to elevate Shanghai's role in economic reform by loosening controls on capital flows and expanding foreign investment in the zone, to officially open next week.

On Tuesday, Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, warned that the zone would have a bigger and quicker impact on Hong Kong than most imagined.

"Yu told us to look forward and discuss how Hong Kong and the mainland should co-operate with each other," said Chan, also a member of the CPPCC's standing committee. Chan said many members of the delegation - comprising business heavyweights - had expressed their views to Yu, "mostly on economic issues".

"My understanding of Mr Yu's message was there wouldn't be just one free-trade zone on the mainland and similar measures to be implemented in the pilot zone in Shanghai would be extended to the rest of the country. That's why Hongkongers must strive to enhance the city's competitiveness," Chan said.

On Tuesday, Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, another member of the delegation, quoted Wang as saying the central government was concerned about the level of unity in Hong Kong.

"It is impossible for everyone in the city to stand on the same front on issues - Hong Kong is a free city ... but more efforts are needed to enhance our unity," said Kwok, a non-executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties. "[Wang] called on us to think clearly whether Hong Kong should be a city for political struggle or economic development."

The city has been debating reform for the chief executive election in 2017, which is supposed to be by universal suffrage.