City Beat

Hong Kong must always remember that Xi Jinping looks beyond the city to the world stage

Chinese president’s visit should remind Hongkongers that they need to look beyond their own borders and develop a a world vision in a fast-changing world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 8:15pm

After a packed three-day visit to Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to China, President Xi Jinping has continued to stay in the international spotlight.

He made whirlwind visits to Russia, then Germany, where he held one bilateral meeting after another with world leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit. They covered major issues of international concern, including perhaps one of the thorniest – North Korea.

The ongoing Sino-Indian border standoff also grabbed headlines as Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their informal meeting on Friday in Hamburg.

The president has a full plate, though distant from Hong Kong, where the talk of the town is now the visit of the nation’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, rather than the global issues Xi is dealing with.

However, it’s also because of the Liaoning that Hongkongers, including the city’s new leadership, can now get a better idea of how special they can be in Beijing’s eye. That’s even though what happens here, good or bad, is not really going to affect Beijing – or Xi – too much in terms of China’s role on the world stage.

Understandably, it was Xi, in his capacity as the head of China’s armed forces, who personally approved the Liaoning battle group’s voyage to Hong Kong. It was also Xi who gave the green light to allow the public on board the carrier for the first time ever. Mainlanders have yet to be given the same opportunity.

Political pundits understandably concluded that this was an education in patriotism for Hongkongers, but there’s more to it than just that.

The docking of the Liaoning in Hong Kong waters reflects the city’s strategic importance in terms of national defence and maritime security in a fast-changing world.

It should also be noted that the Liaoning is not here to take a break and load up on supplies in the manner of visiting US carriers; it’s in the middle of routine training.

China is a nation that shares land borders with 14 countries, but it also has 18,000km of maritime borders. Historically, China has suffered humiliating defeats at sea when facing foreign invasions. Over the past decades, its navy has been relatively weaker than its army and air force.

The Liaoning is widely seen as a major step for the nation to build a modern navy “with combat capability” to protect its maritime interests.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Xi has his plate full on the bigger and wider international stage

One may recall a significant event on July 1, when Xi met newly sworn-in chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her cabinet before wrapping up his visit to Hong Kong. Apart from his expected instructions to the city’s new leadership to always put national interest above all, Xi turned surprisingly candid and emotional towards the end by revealing his hectic schedule ahead.

“When I go back to Beijing later today, I’ll soon set off to visit Russia on Monday, before heading to Germany for the G20 summit,” he said.

“The world is undergoing unprecedented changes and adjustments politically and economically ... Hong Kong will see drastic changes in its internal and external environments. If we do not adapt to changes and seek changes accordingly, we could miss opportunities for development, or even miss an entire era!”

So, no ambiguity here: under “one country, two systems”, it’s natural for Hong Kong to expect the president to address domestic issues that seem pressing from the city’s perspective, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that Xi has his plate full on the bigger and wider international stage.

Hong Kong, being part of the country’s overall development strategy, would do well to look beyond its own borders with a world vision.