40 years of reform and opening up

Hong Kong and Macau played ‘unique and irreplaceable’ roles in China’s reform and opening up, Xi Jinping says while urging both cities to protect national security

  • President speaks to top officials, business and political leaders from both cities at Monday meeting in Beijing
  • He urges both cities to integrate into national developments, especially ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and ‘Greater Bay Area’ plan
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 11:38pm

President Xi Jinping has urged Hong Kong and Macau to protect national security and be more active in the country’s governance in the years ahead even as he praised the two cities for their “unique and irreplaceable” role in China’s successful reform and opening up over the past 40 years.

At a meeting on Monday with a delegation of top officials and business leaders from the special administrative regions, he also called on them to do more to promote international cultural exchanges, support further opening up and integration into the nation’s development plans, especially the “Belt and Road Initiative” and “Greater Bay Area” initiatives.

The former refers to Beijing’s global trade strategy, while the bay area scheme is a plan that seeks to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine nearby mainland cities into a financial and innovation hub to rival Silicon Valley.

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During the start of the session, which was open to the media, Xi delivered a six-minute speech, acknowledging the contributions of both cities.

“In reform and opening up, the status of Hong Kong and Macau has been unique, the contribution made by Hong Kong and Macau compatriots was enormous, and their roles have been irreplaceable,” he said.

“Reflecting on the experience of the past 40 years, the irreplaceable roles played by Hong Kong and Macau have been an important reason for our success … I hereby express my heartfelt thanks to you. The motherland and its people will never forget these.”

Looking forward, the president said, China would continue with its reforms and opening up.

“During this process, Hong Kong and Macau still have their unique status and strengths, and play irreplaceable roles. I hope that with genuine patriotism … Hong Kong and Macau can grasp the great opportunities of co-building the Belt and Road, as well as the Greater Bay Area,” Xi said.

“The cities must integrate into the country’s development.”

The meeting involved top officials and more than 200 business and political leaders from the two cities. Several leading Beijing officials, such as Vice-Premier Han Zheng, were also present.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor led the city’s 160-strong delegation while her Macau counterpart Fernando Chui Sai-on brought a group of 60 to the capital.

Xinhua later reported that in the closed-door session of the meeting, Xi listed out “four hopes” that Hong Kong and Macau should work on “more actively”.

They were to “participate in the practice of national governance, support the country’s full opening up, integrate into the country’s developments, and promote the international exchange between people”.

The president also urged attendees to help Hong Kong and Macau’s young people to solve the problems they faced in their studies, employment and entrepreneurship.

Xi said Hong Kong and Macau were included in the system of national governance since their handovers in the late 1990s.

“Compatriots in the two cities need to improve on the systems and mechanisms related to the Chinese constitution and the Basic Laws,” Xinhua quoted the president as saying, in a reference to the mini-constitutions of both places.

Since taking office in July last year, Lam has faced increasing pressure from Beijing to enact national security legislation – especially amid separatists’ advocacy for Hong Kong to break away from China.

Under Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the government needs to enact its own law to prohibit acts such as treason and subversion. Beijing officials had previously argued that the lack of such a law showed that certain systems in the city needed improvement.

Tam Yiu-chung and Brave Chan Yung, local delegates of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, both confirmed that Xi mentioned national security as he elaborated on his point about governance.

“Xi hoped that we could participate in national governance … and be self-conscious in protecting national security,” Tam said. Chan echoed Tam’s comment

But in a media briefing to conclude the trip, Lam said the issue of national security legislation did not come up in the meeting with Xi.

“We did not touch on [the issue of legislation] at all … But when we talk about standing firm on our root of ‘one country’, and making use of the merits of ‘two systems’, of course, it is our responsibility to safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” she said.

The Hong Kong group kicked off its three-day trip on Saturday by meeting officials in Shenzhen, and returned to the city on Monday night.

During the meeting with the delegation, Xi also said: “The cities must realise better development … as we co-write the great chapter of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” in a reference to his vision of national socio-economic progress in the coming decades.

Xi noted that many members of the delegation were “old friends” of Beijing. “Vivid memories” were recalled as he met them, the president added.

Members of the delegation included Hong Kong businessmen Sze Chi-ching, Jose Yu Sun-say and Lo Man-tuen, who had invested in Fujian – the southern province where Xi worked from 1985 to 2002. Xi rose through the ranks to become Fujian’s deputy party chief from 1995 to 2002, and governor from 2000 to 2002.

Xi also said that Beijing had been commemorating the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up to reflect on its experiences.

“We want to learn the lessons and decide on the orientation and goals of future direction,” he added.

At the meeting, Lam said China’s plans were bringing plenty of opportunities to Hong Kong.

“I hope this trip will boost everyone’s self-confidence, as we contribute to the country’s needs with our strengths, and improve the lives of people in Hong Kong and the mainland,” she added.

Tony Cheung is reporting from Beijing