System 'part of HK's evolution'

Vice-Premier Qian Qichen yesterday described the new ministerial system as a means to creating a leadership team that would shoulder collective responsibility for Hong Kong's governance.

In an interview in Beijing with the South China Morning Post shortly before the ministerial team was announced in Hong Kong, Mr Qian said the Chief Executive would no longer bear sole responsibility for Hong Kong's development, but rather there would be 'a group of people with the Chief Executive at the head taking proper responsibility for Hong Kong'.

Mr Qian assessed the SAR Government's performance in Mr Tung's first five-year term as 'fairly good' and expressed a belief that with a new government team, the next five years would be 'even better'.

He described the ministerial accountability system as part of the evolution of Hong Kong's Government from the British colonial system. 'At this time we cannot but recall what happened five years earlier, upon Hong Kong's return to China,' he said.

'At that time, the SAR Government had only one new face. The outgoing governor was replaced by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.'

With the rest of the old government structure still in place, 'it was very difficult for the Chief Executive to operate', Mr Qian said.

'All the officials were civil servants who were employed by the governor and had of course to obey the governor. The Hong Kong people at the time had no rights to speak of.'

The Vice-Premier, who has responsibility for Hong Kong affairs in the central Government, said the two biggest challenges the new team would have to meet during the next five years were the continuing restructuring of Hong Kong's economy and the continued implementation of the 'one country, two systems' relationship between the SAR and the mainland.

Mr Qian said Mr Tung and his ministers had a two-fold economic challenge to meet. One was posed by the international economic downturn, and the other by the need for internal economic restructuring.

Mr Qian provided a clear indication that Beijing still saw Hong Kong as playing a major role in the mainland's economic reform and modernisation process.

He called on the SAR to develop its status as an 'international centre for finance, trade and shipping'. He said this would allow the mainland to 'fully utilise Hong Kong's advantages so as to help promote the mainland's reforms and opening up'.

Mr Qian indicated that the ministerial team would have to work on refining and building on the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' relationship. 'Concerning 'one country, two systems', some experience has been accumulated concerning its implementation. So with this achievement as a basis, Hong Kong will be in a better position based on its experience to further implement 'one country, two systems'. This will continue to be a major task in the years ahead.'