Premier Li Keqiang yesterday promised continued support for Hong Kong amid "comprehensive deepening" of reforms on the mainland, but he evaded questions about the city's electoral reform and autonomy.
The premier said Hong Kong had kept its competitive edge and gave a reassurance that the central government's policy towards the city remained "consistent and clear-cut". His remarks at the annual press conference after the plenary sessions of the national legislature and top advisory body came amid growing fears about the city's competitiveness and challenges from other cities.
"Hong Kong has held its own and maintained prosperity despite volatility in the global economy. That shows it has kept its competitive edge," Li said.
In reply to a Hong Kong reporter's question on whether the central government would come up with fresh measures to boost the city's economy, Li said: "We will do whatever is conducive to the prosperity of Hong Kong."
But when asked if he was confident the city could achieve universal suffrage, agree on nominating methods for chief executive candidates and maintain its autonomy, Li just smiled and waved to the reporters.
To a question on the city's competitiveness, the premier said: "The central government's policy … is consistent and clear-cut. [It] will continue to support Hong Kong in maintaining and activating its status as an international financial, trading and shipping centre."
Worries over Hong Kong's declining competitive edge were fuelled by the central government's recent decision to move an important Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation finance ministers' meeting from Hong Kong to Beijing. Other factors include controversy over radical protests against mainland visitors and the possibility of a deadlock on electoral reform.
Li acknowledged the city's role in fostering the mainland's development.
"Hong Kong has made important contributions to the reform, opening-up and modernisation drive in mainland," he said. "The comprehensive deepening of reform and upgrading of China will also open up tremendous space for Hong Kong's development."
Professor Wong Yuk-shan, a local deputy to the National People's Congress, said the city should take its high-end service industries to the mainland, where demand for quality financial and accounting services was soaring. "The mainland lacks those high-end services, which are Hong Kong's strengths."
Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and a local delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said Li's remarks were in line with earlier ones by NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang .
Noting local concerns about the challenge to Hong Kong's status posed by Shanghai's new free-trade zone, Zhang said on March 4 that while Hongkongers should not worry, they should also seek to boost the city's competitiveness.