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Xi Jinping

Beijing seeks better understanding of Communist Party’s work and goals from Hong Kong establishment

Seminar held for some 240 officials by top party theoretician Leng Rong and Wang Zhimin, head of the central government’s liaison office

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 11:50pm

Beijing mobilised a senior Chinese Communist Party theorist and its top official in Hong Kong to drive home an unusually direct message to the city’s establishment on Thursday about better understanding and improving cross-border ties after China’s recent leadership reshuffle.

In a move reflecting the central government’s more hands-on approach in steering the city, Leng Rong, head of the Communist Party’s literature research office, and Wang Zhimin, director of Beijing’s liaison office, gave a talk at government headquarters on President Xi Jinping’s report at the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress last month.

His 240-strong audience included Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, her top policy officials, advisers and senior civil servants.

Wang called for the careful handling of the differences between the city’s residents and their mainland compatriots, citing it as key to the success of the “one country, two systems” principle and capitalising on the central government’s development plans.

Leng gave a detailed explanation of Xi’s report and its importance to Hong Kong.

Each official at the seminar was given three booklets on the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law, Xi’s report at the party congress and a recent speech made by Wang.

They were also given three DVDs of documentaries themed on China’s “rule of law, glory and diplomacy”, produced by state broadcaster CCTV.

The session on Thursday came a week after Li Fei, a senior mainland official who specialises in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, warned at a seminar in Hong Kong that the city was paying the price for its lack of progress in enacting the local version of China’s national security law.

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After last week’s seminar, attended by local officials and broadcasted live at 50 schools, the event on Thursday was met with suspicion in some quarters.

Opposition politicians described it as “unusual” and they warned it would be “dangerous” if socialist ideology was incorporated into the city’s governance and policymaking.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of Beijing’s top think tank on Hong Kong affairs, said the event showed Beijing’s determination to boost local officials’ understanding of its ideas.

“It is because the Hong Kong government has to be accountable to Beijing, which is the local government’s source of power,” he said.

After the two-hour session, Executive Councillor Wong Kwok-kin said Leng had only focused on explaining the outline and highlights of Xi’s report.

Fellow councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said Wang had followed up with a speech on how to “manage the six sets of relationships underpinning the one country, two systems principle,” under which Beijing has promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

Ip listed them out as: the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law; Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction over the city and the promised high degree of autonomy; the central and local governments; the nation and the city’s development; “one country” and “two systems’; and the differences in thinking between Hong Kong and mainland people.

In Xi’s report, the president had called for a natural melding of Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction with Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

“Wang said it saddened him to see so many young people camping out [during the 2014 Occupy protests], and their misunderstanding about the country was rooted in the problems with education,” Ip said.

The two Beijing officials were not giving instructions for policymakers to follow, she added.

“The civil service in Hong Kong is of a high calibre. They are perfectly capable of interpreting Mr Wang’s comments and implementing what’s best in Hong Kong’s interest,” she said.

In a statement, a government spokesman said:“The seminars give politically appointed officials, senior government officials and those who take part in policymaking a better understanding of the issues concerned.”

The chief executive on Tuesday sought to play down speculation, saying the government had been organising a series of national affairs seminars in recent years.

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Yi Gang, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, was also in Hong Kong to speak to businesspeople on Thursday afternoon.

While Yi briefed the audience on the key takeaways from the party congress, he also praised Hong Kong’s role in China’s development, especially in the early days of the country’s opening up when the city supplied funds and management expertise to the mainland.

Yi said closer economic links with the mainland had helped Hong Kong transform into the world’s biggest IPO and asset management market in Asia, and to cement the city’s status as an international financial centre.

He noted that Hong Kong had further potential for growth through more financial integration with the mainland.