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Greater Bay Area

Beijing’s bay area plan for southern China is the focus as state leader Han Zheng meets Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam

Discussion comes ahead of roll-out of national development scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into economic and innovation powerhouse

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 12:57pm

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday had her first formal meeting with Chinese Vice-premier Han Zheng since the state leader was appointed to take charge of the city’s affairs.

The event appeared to be hastily arranged as Lam made a surprise detour through Beijing on her way back to Hong Kong from a visit to Europe, with the stop in the capital previously unannounced.

It was also Han’s first meeting with Lam since he was promoted to vice-premier in March, a position that ranks him No 7 in China’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Han now oversees development for the “Greater Bay Area”, a project to transform Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a financial and innovation powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley.

The pair last met in Shanghai last August when Han was Shanghai Communist Party secretary.

Lam said after Tuesday’s meeting that she had briefed Han on her government’s policies to equip Hong Kong to take advantage of the regional plan, details of which were expected to be announced soon.

She said she appreciated Han taking the time to listen to her views.

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“I told Han that the plan would undoubtedly inject new momentum into Hong Kong’s economic development, especially in the area of innovation and technology,” Lam said.

Hong Kong would waste no time in grabbing the opportunities on offer, she added.

“There is no need for us to wait for details to be announced [by the central government] to act,” said the city’s chief executive, who highlighted proposals in her policy address last year to develop information technology.

“Hong Kong is an international city and financial centre. We are also a trade and logistics hub. We have good potential for research and development and we have mature connections with the international community. In these aspects we can contribute to the development of the bay area.”

Han told Lam that Beijing attached great importance to the bay area plans, which were “personally planned, personally pushed” by President Xi Jinping.

Through “in-depth and comprehensive cooperation” between the 11 cities, the project could “also enrich the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ and promote the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong”, Han said, referring to the city’s governing formula agreed at the 1997 handover of sovereignty from Britain.

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The country’s central leadership approved of Lam’s work on the economy, people’s livelihoods and the implementation of the one country, two systems policy in her first year in office, Han said.

China watchers believed the meeting was timed to enable Lam to secure approval from the central government to iron out differences between Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other Guangdong cities ahead of the finalisation of bay area plans.

Hui Ching, research director at the Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute, said: “Although they like to talk about mutual cooperation, there is bound to be competition among cities. Bay area development is also a new concept for the country. Beijing may want more time to consider the views of various cities involved.”

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-president of Beijing’s semi-official think tank on Hong Kong affairs, the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the bay area was a national strategic project in which Hong Kong was a participant rather than playing a leading role.

“Hong Kong cannot do it at its own pace. It has to synchronise with other cities,” Lau said.

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Beijing wanted to help Hong Kong boost its economic development so as to ease social conflicts in the city, he added.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu shared similar views, but added that Beijing might have also wanted to hear about Lam’s visit to Europe and the role Hong Kong could play in China-Europe trade relations. The EU-China Summit is to be held in Beijing next month. Top EU officials are currently in Beijing for the annual EU-China High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Lam also called on the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, where she was received by director Zhang Xiaoming.

Meanwhile, acting Hong Kong chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government’s Technology Talent Admission Scheme had been launched on Monday to provide a fast track for the import of overseas and mainland research and development talent.

“This is also to coordinate with bay area development,” Cheung said.