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Zhang Dejiang

NPC chief urges Hong Kong to put economy above ‘street politics’

Zhang Dejiang warns city could be eclipsed by fast-rising Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 8:57am

The head of China’s top legislature has warned Hong Kong against challenging the bottom-line of national sovereignty or over-politicising issues, cautioning that the city’s economic prowess could be surpassed by neighbouring city Shenzhen in just two years.

National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang also urged Hong Kong to “seize opportunities” that Beijing has reserved for the city in the nation’s “fast-track development”, as countries around the world scramble for such favours.

At an annual closed-door meeting with Hong Kong deputies to the NPC in the capital on Monday, Zhang was cited as expressing hope that the city’s chief executive election on March 26 and transition from one administration to the next would be carried out “smoothly”.

The No 3 national leader reiterated that Beijing was “entitled to have a say” in the leadership race, and its requirements for the city’s leader were “higher than that for ministers”, according to two senior delegates, Maria Tam Wai-chu and Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai.

Zhang’s statements came a day after Premier Li Keqiang took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning independence advocacy in Hong Kong. He declared in his annual work report on Sunday that such efforts would “lead nowhere”.

Maria Tam, convenor of the 36-member Hong Kong delegation to the NPC, said Zhang had advised the city to seize the opportunities provided.

“He said the entire world has been vying for opportunities in China’s fast-track development. They have to queue up, but Hong Kong and Macau have their places reserved,” Tam said.

Watch: Chinese premier warns against Hong Kong independence

She added that while Zhang did not discourage political discourse, he cautioned against excessive politicisation or resorting to “street politics”. She said he characterised Hong Kong as being at a critical juncture, and warned that “when opportunities are gone, they won’t come back”.

Tam recalled his description of fast-rising Shenzhen as “only a small fishing village” three decades ago, when Hong Kong was already an international financial centre. “But now Shenzhen’s GDP might surpass Hong Kong’s GDP within two years,” she quoted him as saying.

Shenzhen’s gross domestic product last year was 1.94 trillion yuan (HK$2.16 trillion) – up 9 per cent from 2015; Hong Kong’s GDP was HK$2.49 trillion, up 3.8 per cent from the previous year.

But Wong Ka-fu, an economist at the University of Hong Kong, said it was “not very meaningful” to compare GDP only. Per capita GDP and productivity, for example, were better indicators reflecting economic performance, he said.

In 2016, Hong Kong’s per capita GDP was HK$339,273, while Shenzhen’s was 167,400 yuan.

Tam said Zhang also alluded to two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers who were disqualified last year for distorting their oath-taking with anti-China slogans. She said the state leader emphasised the importance of safeguarding national interests and security.

“Zhang said some Hong Kong lawmakers had touched inviolable bottom-lines of the country and the city … He said while Hong Kong enjoys freedom and democracy, there are lines that cannot be crossed; challenging the Basic Law will lead nowhere.”

Watch: Zhang Dejiang on Hong Kong’s chief executive race

On Zhang’s remarks about the city’s leadership race, chief executive candidates Woo Kwok-hing and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor both agreed with him that “higher standards” should apply.

Another contender, John Tsang Chun-wah, earlier said there was no reason to suggest that he was not trusted by Beijing since he was a principal official for more than a decade.

Additional reporting by Joyce Ng and Ng Kang-chung