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Hong Kong economy

Mutual respect for Hong Kong and Macau needed to achieve economic integration, Beijing’s top man in charge of cities says

Conciliatory tone struck as blueprint for the Greater Bay Area project is due to be released by the central government this month

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 10:32am

The integration of Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China’s ambitious economic and infrastructure development must be achieved with mutual respect for their own views and circumstances, Beijing’s top man in charge of the two cities’ affairs said on Friday.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said he was reflecting the views of China’s leadership regarding megaprojects such as the Greater Bay Area, which will pool the two cities together with nine mainland cities to form an economic powerhouse aimed at rivalling Silicon Valley.

A blueprint for the Greater Bay Area project is due to be released by the central government this month, and a source told the Post on Friday that it could come as early as next week.

“We need to have mutual respect, and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. In particular, we need to give enough respect to the views of the Hong Kong and Macau governments,” Zhang said.

“For example, in managing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, there will be different acceptable approaches, and we should try to use the approach put forth by the two governments.”

He stressed the need for officials to “use methods and language easily acceptable to the Hong Kong and Macau societies” when promoting Beijing’s policies to “obtain the best sociopolitical results”.

Policies beneficial to both cities should be announced by their respective chief executives, or governments, so their authority could be maintained and people could “feel” the central government’s support, Zhang added.

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His remarks struck a conciliatory note, coming after a recent spate of stern reminders by current and former mainland officials that while Hong Kong has its own mini-constitution, the Basic Law, it still falls under China’s “unitary system” and the national constitution encompasses the entire country.

Zhang’s predecessor, Wang Guangya, last month said Hongkongers who chanted slogans in favour of ending one-party rule in China were breaking the law and should not be allowed to run for political office.

There is a need to seriously evaluate Hong Kong and Macau societies’ reactions, and to do such projects well
Zhang Xiaoming, State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office

Zhang was speaking at a conference in Sichuan to discuss closer cooperation between the province and Hong Kong, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attending.

He emphasised the unwavering importance Beijing placed on the “one country, two systems” formula for governing Hong Kong, while acknowledging that cross-border affairs could not handled in the same way as matters between mainland provinces.

Beijing would roll out further policies to help people from Hong Kong and Macau work, study and do business more easily on the mainland, he said.

And he stressed that cross-border infrastructure projects, such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, should be built to international standards. The project, on which the city has already spent HK$10.7 billion (US$1.38 billion) so far, was in the spotlight last month over safety concerns.

“There is a need to seriously evaluate Hong Kong and Macau societies’ reactions, and to do such projects well,” he said.

Political commentator Lau Yui-siu said Zhang’s latest tone was “relatively soft”, but the issue at hand was not political and did not require a harder stance.

The director’s comments, he added, were timed ahead of the roll-out of plans for the Greater Bay Area project.

“The Greater Bay Area’s development, and the cooperation with Sichuan, are practical issues that should not be interrupted by politics,” Lau said.

He interpreted Zhang’s reference to “mutual respect” as a bid to ease tension between Hong Kong and mainland and to call for more discussions.

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Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the think tank Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, suggested Zhang was quoting President Xi Jinping himself, and the central government was trying to strengthen Hongkongers’ sense of Chinese identity.

“They are giving national treatment to Hong Kong people, so they have a better sense of fulfilment,” he said.

Lau Yui-siu said Beijing’s show of support for Hong Kong and Macau came with a reminder: “When they give you the credit and listen to your views, you have more responsibility in ensuring the policies are implemented fully.”

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Speaking after the conference, Lam said Beijing had always respected the Hong Kong government, and Zhang was merely reiterating its support.

“Because we are at the frontline, we are responsible for governing Hong Kong, so on many issues, while we may have different views to begin with, at the end they respect Hong Kong’s opinions,” she said.

Leading a high-level delegation from the city, Lam oversaw the signing of an agreement in Chengdu on 29 projects across fields such as technology innovation, education, tourism and transport.

Two former directors of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, Zhang and Peng Qinghua, were present at the Sichuan conference, alongside the office’s current director Wang Zhimin.