Zhang Dejiang has set the right tone for better ties between Hong Kong and the mainland

In just 48 hours, high-ranking state leader reassured city that its identity was safe, that we had the full backing of Beijing, and even met opposition lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:36pm

With only 48 hours to spend in the city, Zhang Dejiang (張德江 ) may not have been able to “see, listen and speak” as much as he would have liked. But the messages from the visiting chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee were rich in substance. From economic challenges to calls for independence and criticism of Leung Chun-ying’s governance, the third most senior state leader did not shy away from addressing the thorny issues facing Hong Kong.

On the economy, Zhang made no bones about Beijing’s concerns about the city’s competitiveness. Hong Kong’s success as an international city, he said, stemmed from the fact that it had the full support of the central government. Amid intensifying global competition, we have yet to identify new engines of growth to make up for a weakening of our traditional strengths.

Everyone will have to ‘foot the bill’ if Hong Kong becomes chaotic, warns Zhang Dejiang

Worse, we continue to indulge in street politics rather than staying united and moving forward.

Amid growing worries that the city is seemingly losing its identity and high degree of autonomy, Zhang’s assurance that the “one country, two systems” principle will remain in place is to be welcomed. He also sought to differentiate localism from independence. While the former is not necessarily in conflict with patriotism, he rightly warned against calls for self-determination and independence. Abandoning the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” concept would only lead to chaos and the consequences would have to be borne by everyone, he said.

You won’t lose your identity: Zhang Dejiang assures Hong Kong it will not be absorbed by mainland China

Another key message was the need for better support for the chief executive and his team. Beijing appears to be fully aware of the difficulties Leung is facing in governing the city. Although Zhang stopped short of saying whether Beijing would support Leung for a second term, he expressed the wish for different sectors to rally behind Leung’s leadership while urging the administration to take heed of different voices in society.

Zhang himself set a good example in this respect. In a major breakthrough, four pan-democrat lawmakers had direct dialogue with Zhang during an hour-long reception. Although he did not give specific responses to the lawmakers’ demands, including their call for Leung to be replaced, the atmosphere was said to be frank and cordial. The long-standing divide between Beijing and the pan-democrats cannot be bridged instantly but this is certainly a step towards better relations. It is to be hoped that such exchanges will become more regular in future.