Affairs office chief Zhang Xiaoming seeks to allay fears over China's policy towards Hong Kong

Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office says Premier Li Keqiang failing to mention ‘high degree of autonomy’ and ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’ in his report for the year does not mean China’s attitude has changed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 8:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 8:45am

Beijing’s top man in charge of Hong Kong affairs on Friday rejected concerns that the central government has changed its policies towards the city, sparked when Premier Li Keqiang omitted two Basic Law references in his work report for this year.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said the spirit of the city’s “high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” were already ­included in the “one country, two systems” principle.

He made the remarks after Li omitted two references to the Basic Law in his work report on Monday that were included in his reports from 2015 to 2017.

But the premier vowed the central government would fully implement the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong.

“I remember that (President Xi Jinping) has once said, since the ‘one country, two systems’ is a success, and that the people support it, what are the reasons to change it?” Zhang told reporters inside the Great Hall of the People.

“The ‘one country, two systems’ principle is an overall concept that already includes the meanings of ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’, ‘Macau people governing Macau’, and ‘high degree of autonomy’.”

The director also said that it was more important to state that the “one country, two systems” principle needs to be understood and implemented comprehensively and accurately – as it was stated in the report.

The other reason for the omission was that there was simply limited space in the report, he said.

The “one country, two systems” is a principle that is supported by people in Hong Kong and Macau as well as Chinese everywhere, he added.

He made the remarks against the backdrop of escalating concerns that the city’s high degree of autonomy is being eroded. Critics have often cited the disqualification of six popularly elected legislators, Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law, and the jailing of young democracy activists.

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Its capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years until 2047.

Zhang also said that measures to facilitate the lives of Hongkongers who work and live on the mainland will “keep coming”, though he could not reveal what they would be. Some of the new measures could be introduced as pilot schemes for the Greater Bay Area initiative, he added.

Xi Jinping tells Guangdong to lead the charge on ‘full opening up’

The Greater Bay Area initiative was endorsed by the Chinese leadership to foster integration between Hong Kong, Macau and nine neighbouring mainland cities.

“(Xi’s) Chinese dream has Hong Kong and Macau compatriots (in it),” Zhang added.

Zhang also said that Xi had this week attended a meeting of Guangdong deputies to the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.

“(Xi) said that the Greater Bay Area initiative is the central government’s important policy. He demanded Guangdong seize the opportunities,” Zhang said.

Xi also said that the authorities in Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau need to enhance their co-ordination and make the project a world-class one.

Zhang added he had not heard reports that his office would be merged with the Taiwan Affairs Office. Reports have suggested that the merger would take place to consolidate efforts to fight pro-independence ideologies.