New thinking needed from Hong Kong’s next cabinet, top Beijing official says

Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya expresses confidence in Carrie Lam’s team, while president praises ‘one country, two systems’ as best way to ensure city’s prosperity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 11:50pm

The head of the Beijing government department that handles Hong Kong matters has called for “new thinking” from all members of incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet.

But Wang Guangya, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, sidestepped questions on whether it had turned down some of Lam’s original picks for ministerial posts, saying only that here had been “two-way communication” in vetting the list.

Attending the opening of a National Museum exhibition in the capital on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, Wang talked to the media about Lam’s new governing team.

“In order to push the city towards better development, all members of the cabinet need to have new thinking,” he said.

At a later event that was closed to the Hong Kong media, President Xi Jinping praised “one country, two systems” as the best way to ensure the city’s long-term prosperity and stability, “not just the best proposal to resolve an historical question”.

Leading his six other Politburo Standing Committee members to visit the exhibition, Xi said the central government would unwaveringly, comprehensively and accurately implement the Basic Law, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Hong Kong’s post-handover achievements were “well regarded by the whole world”, Xi added.

Wang earlier expressed confidence after his recent Shenzhen meetings with Lam’s three top aides: Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.

“They have a heart in Hong Kong. I am fully confident of Hong Kong in the five years ahead,” Wang said.

There has been speculation that Lam wanted to replace Chan and find a successor for Yuen, who did not want to stay on, but she was asked to keep them by Beijing.

On concerns that there were too many old faces instead of fresh talent in Lam’s team, Wang noted that there had been “minor changes”.

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Lam, when unveiling her team last week, did not confirm or deny Beijing’s opposition to her original picks.

Her cabinet was seen to feature no surprises, as all but one minister were either inherited from predecessor Leung Chun-ying’s team or promoted internally.

Incoming labour and welfare chief Dr Law Chi-kwong, a social-policy academic at the University of Hong Kong, was the only outsider, with a pan-democratic background, to get on board.

State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who attended the show with Wang, said in his speech that the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong had been “fully protected” and that democracy had “steadily progressed” since the handover 20 years ago.

He said the central government would stand firm on its “one country, two systems” principle in ruling Hong Kong.

The remarks come days before Xi’s visit to Hong Kong this week, during which he will attend ceremonies marking the anniversary of the city’s return to China from British sovereignty.

“Over the past 20 years, Hong Kong residents’ fundamental rights and freedoms have been fully protected,” said Yang, also deputy chairman of the Communist Party’s working group on Hong Kong affairs.

“The development of democratic politics has steadily progressed,” he added. “’One country, two systems’ has achieved widespread acclaim in the international community.”

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Yang said the central government would support the Hong Kong government in “governing according to laws” and improve cooperation between the mainland and the city.

The ceremony was also attended by China’s No 3 leader Zhang Dejiang, Vice-President Li Yuanchao, United Front chief Sun Chunlan, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his successor.

In his speech, Leung said “one country, two systems” had proven to be the best system for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, at least three Democratic Party lawmakers confirmed they would attend the dinner for Xi on Friday, when they would try to hand in a letter to him to voice their views on how the “one country, two systems” principle had changed over the years and appeal for a promise of “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong.

All but five of the pan-democratic legislators have been invited to the dinner, variety show, flag raising ceremony and the new government’s inauguration ceremony on Friday and Saturday.

The five not invited are Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Edward Yiu Chung-yim and Lau Siu-lai – who are facing disqualification for their antics when being sworn in as lawmakers last year – and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who advocates Hong Kong’s self-determination.