Nine years after Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, Beijing has decided to include the special administrative region in its 11th Five-Year Programme, covering 2006-2010. If this had happened in the 10th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in 2001, or the Ninth Five-Year Plan, there would have been an outcry, not only in Hong Kong but around the world. It would have been seen as an attempt by the mainland to absorb the city into its economy despite promises of 'one country, two systems' and a 'high degree of autonomy' for the city. After all, in the Joint Declaration on the city's future, China promised: 'The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the lifestyle.' Before 1997, five-year state plans played no role in the city's economic system. This year, however, there have been no adverse overseas reaction to Hong Kong's inclusion in the plan. Locally, the reaction has been almost entirely positive. In fact, certain business quarters are calling for Hong Kong to seek participation in drafting Beijing's 12th Five-Year Programme, so we won't be left out. This reaction represents acceptance of economic realities. The city now has a symbiotic economic relationship with the mainland, even as it competes with individual mainland cities. Besides, there is a feeling that Hong Kong needs the mainland - and that the latter has been bending over backward to accommodate us through such measures as the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement free-trade deal and the individual visiting scheme for mainlanders. It is unfortunate, but true, that before 1997 Hongkongers had a tendency to look down on mainlanders, secure in their own sense of innate superiority. In the past nine years, however, an opposite tendency has set in. Because Hong Kong underwent an economic decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the impression was created that the city time and again has had to go to Beijing - begging bowl in hand - to ask for handouts. The city's sense of self-worth dropped precipitously. It's a fact that Hong Kong couldn't survive without the mainland. But it should not be forgotten that the city makes tremendously valuable contributions to the mainland's development. This has been true for the entire history of the People's Republic of China. To its credit, Beijing is quick to acknowledge Hong Kong's role. For example, after the latest five-year plan was approved by the National People's Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Hong Kong was the mainland's largest foreign investor, and played an irreplaceable role as a centre of shipping, finance and trade. And Gao Siren, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, said no mainland city could replace the city's role in the country's development. To be fair, the mainland has changed tremendously over the past two decades, and today's economic plans are no longer the Soviet-style plans, with their emphasis on heavy industry. The current plan puts great emphasis on things like saving energy and conserving the environment. Indeed, to differentiate this plan from previous ones, Beijing has come up with new terminology: it calls this not a plan but a 'programme', or a 'guiding proposal'. The term jihua (plan) has been placed by guihua, or programme. Moreover, Beijing has not provided any concrete plan for Hong Kong to follow. Instead, it uses generalities, such as 'support will be given to Hong Kong's development on fronts such as financial services, logistics, tourism and information services, and to maintain Hong Kong's status as an international hub of financial services, trade and shipping'. It's good of the central government to offer support, but in the real world what it can offer are only opportunities. It will be up to Hong Kong to do the groundwork necessary to prepare to grasp those opportunities. If Hong Kong plays its part, the chances are good that this plan will go far to help the city restore its sense of self-worth. It is, on balance, a good thing. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.