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China science

Hong Kong scientists told to love China if they want state support, but leader Carrie Lam calls President Xi Jinping’s offer ‘breakthrough’

City’s chief executive hails initiative to foster local scientific minds but is forced to defend stipulation that beneficiaries ‘love the country and Hong Kong’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 4:02pm

Plans by President Xi Jinping to offer Hong Kong scientists greater access to state funding are a “breakthrough” and underscore the central government’s support for grooming local talent, the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.

But Lam was forced to defend language used in directives issued by the president which said Beijing would only assist scientists who “love the country and Hong Kong”.

Critics expressed fears such conditions would compromise the freedom of scientific researchers, with local lawmaker Charles Mok, who represents the IT sector in Hong Kong’s legislature, saying they could lead to a politicisation of the field.

Lam however said such stipulations were “nothing unusual”.

“I think this is only a matter of terminology,” Lam said ahead of a weekly meeting of the Executive Council, her body of senior policy advisers.

“But of course in Hong Kong, we do expect that whether you are a scientist, researcher or government official like myself, you love the country and Hong Kong – this is nothing unusual. I think some commentators have read too much into this term.”

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Xi’s move, reported by state news agency Xinhua on Monday, came in response to an appeal by 24 of Hong Kong’s leading scientists who wrote to him last year to “express their pressing hope to make a contribution to the motherland”. All were members of either the Chinese Academy of Sciences or the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the nation’s top science and technology research institutes.

Hong Kong scientists will be able to apply for national-level funding previously only available to researchers on the mainland. The new initiative seeks to help the city become an international innovation hub.

National authorities will also support researchers who “love the country and Hong Kong” to take part in national scientific programmes, according to the Xinhua report.

Lam described the development as a breakthrough, saying it highlighted Xi’s support for fostering scientific minds in Hong Kong.

In the past, some city scientists were able to secure state funding through partnerships with researchers across the border, but the money had to be spent in mainland China.

Lam brushed aside suggestions the scientists had been forced to bypass the Hong Kong government and appeal directly to Xi, saying she had been in the loop the whole time.

It was very natural for the scientists to write to the president, Lam said. She had raised the issue twice with former Chinese science minister Wan Gang, as well as Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, during her duty visit to Beijing last December, she added.

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“It was a joint effort made by the city’s government, the members of the institutes and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong,” Lam said.

Details will be announced at a forum on Tuesday afternoon attended by Chinese deputy minister of science and technology Huang Wei, and Huang Liuquan, the deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

Separately, turning to transport, Lam said her administration would weigh in when necessary to minimise surcharges for passengers buying tickets from Hong Kong for mainland Chinese routes on a new high-speed rail line set to open this year connecting the city to the national rail network.

Hong Kong’s railway operator the MTR Corporation earlier said it would only sell tickets for four short-haul and 14 long-haul destinations involving the Hong Kong section of the line. The government said a mainland operator could be brought in at the local terminal at West Kowloon to sell tickets for journeys not on the Hong Kong section, but for an extra fee for passengers.