City Beat

As China reforms under Xi Jinping, Hong Kong should look across the border for future plans

Carrie Lam’s Beijing trip comes at a time where major adjustments in the central government are on the horizon, and likely to impact her city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 10:47pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in summer retreat, along with other top Communist Party leaders, after inspecting a massive, combat-ready parade at a military base in Inner Mongolia to mark the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.

While the inspection was a high-profile event, for the benefit of both domestic and global audiences, the annual retreat to the Beidaihe beach resort, near the capital, is shrouded in secrecy as an important prelude to the much-anticipated 19th Party Congress later this year.

Nothing on the agenda concerns Hong Kong, but it is by no means irrelevant to the city’s future, especially this time as it will shed light on China’s future reform direction by finalising the tone of the coming congress. Major policies to be decided, especially economic strategy, will profoundly impact our city.

How Xi Jinping won a stronger mandate to lead China

Back in Hong Kong, it’s quite amazing to see that the talk of the town is almost obsessively focused on the joint checkpoint arrangement for the new high-speed railway to Guangzhou and the appointment of the new undersecretary for education who is under attack from the opposition camp over her “red” pro-Beijing credentials.

Of course, political controversies should not be trivialised, and these two issues in particular concern cross-border ties and trust building. But our politicians should not miss the bigger picture either, and that is the importance of the Beidaihe retreat and where China’s reform is heading under Xi.

The gathering, in a strict sense, is more of a brainstorming session by the nation’s top leaders than a formal meeting. Besides finalising the new leadership lineup for Xi’s next term, it is also to decide strategy on how to transform China into a more “powerful” country. Xi is now widely seen as joining the ranks of Mao Zedong, who put China on its feet, and Deng Xiaoping, who made the nation rich by opening it up.

Xi is determined to make China more powerful by taking reform to a new height. So, what does it mean for Hong Kong?

Naturally, all eyes are watching for any possible clue from Beidaihe in terms of leadership change, which is likely to see someone take over from Zhang Dejiang as Beijing’s point man for Hong Kong. Zhang is currently the head of the country’s top legislature and is expected to retire next March.

However, the party congress is not just about a top-level reshuffle. How to sustain China’s economic growth amid the very complex environments at home and abroad is a real and tough challenge.

Xi’s quote about “making people have a sense of gain” has not only become a popular slogan, but also a measurement to judge the performance of officials at all levels. This means a “powerful” country should be able to let its people feel the substantial benefits of reform, while in the international arena, it needs to be more assertive and ready in protecting its national interests.

It was against such a significant backdrop that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor led a group of her top aides, including Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and other heads of policy bureaus, to Beijing on her first mainland visit after taking up office. One main task was to meet various ministries in charge of economic planning and development to seek greater room for more cross-border cooperation in future.

Interestingly, the timing could be seen as both convenient and inconvenient: it gave Lam and her team a feel of the latest political and economic pulse up north ahead of the party congress; but major mainland policies may be due for further adjustments after the Beidaihe meeting, and later the party congress.

There is, however, one reality for Hong Kong: the need for officials and politicians to look across the border for future planning.