Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Economic focus puts Hong Kong pan-democrats on right track in visit

Nearly four years on from a divisive trip to Shanghai, lawmakers put the stress on innovations and advantages enjoyed by the city, not a political agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 5:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 5:54am

The visit to the mainland by 32 lawmakers, including nine pan-democrats, was the largest delegation from the Legislative Council since almost four years ago.

The three-day, five-city tour of Guangdong was to study Beijing’s “Greater Bay Area” project to forge an integrated business powerhouse across Hong Kong, Macau and nine provincial cities.

A highlight, less than six months ahead of the planned opening of the cross-border high-speed rail link, was a 40-minute ride on the line’s mainland section from Guangzhou to Shenzhen.

It was always going to take more than that to sway pan-democrat opposition on legal and constitutional grounds to the controversial plan for a joint Hong Kong-mainland immigration checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus, still being debated.

Hong Kong rule of law, diverse economy ‘keys to Greater Bay Area success’

What really set this visit apart was an economic rather than political agenda, and the absence of political division among pan-democrats that marred the 2014 visit to Shanghai to discuss electoral reform with state officials. As a result, both sides were able to come away with positives.

For example, in order to help ensure the success of the bay area concept, pan-democrats and other lawmakers emphasised the importance of Hong Kong’s advantages under “one country, two systems”, such as the rule of law, free flow of information and internationalisation.

According to Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, mainland municipal officials agreed that Hong Kong’s strengths lay in such matters.

Business sector lawmakers and executive councillor Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, said foreign investors were drawn to Hong Kong’s tax policy and system of common law.

The pan-democrat line therefore is that Hong Kong needs to safeguard the defining advantages conferred by one country, two systems so that it can play a better role in the nation’s overall development and the bay area project in particular. It is unlikely Beijing will be unhappy with this given the emphasis on one country.

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At the same time, the pan-democrats also put their finger on Hong Kong’s weakness for stifling innovation and entangling itself in bureaucratic red tape, a legacy of the old economy that is an even greater liability in the new.

After visiting Shenzhen and Dongguan and praising examples of innovation, they called on the government to slash red tape and embrace new technologies.

Wu, chairman of Legco’s panel on commerce and industry, said rightly that Hong Kong needed to be more inclusive and open-minded to develop innovation and technology and remain competitive.