Beijing has pledged to help Hong Kong strengthen its “unique advantages” as an international city, and roll out policies supporting residents in seizing opportunities around the world, including mainland China.
The reassurance, given on Friday by Han Wenxiu, deputy director at the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission, came a day after Communist Party leaders made technological self-sufficiency a priority for the country at the conclusion of their fifth plenum, a high-level meeting of China’s top decision makers.
A communique issued on Thursday focused largely on the central government’s 14th five-year plan, which aims to plot China’s economic and political course through to 2025.
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But apart from vowing to ensure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau, the document made no other direct reference to the international finance hub.
The brief mention raised questions as to whether the city continued to be relevant in Beijing’s plans, especially after Shenzhen was recently described by President Xi Jinping as “an important engine” in the Greater Bay Area plan.
The project seeks to integrate Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and eight other Guangdong cities into a financial and technological powerhouse.
At a press conference in Beijing on Friday, Han was asked what the next five-year plan would mean for Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is the world’s freest economy, its economic development was built on good foundations,” he said. “The city has unique advantages – it has a large number of high-quality professionals and is broadly connected with the world’s economy.”
Han said over the course of the new five-year plan, the central government would back Hong Kong in “consolidating and enhancing its competitive advantages” and becoming an international innovation and technology hub.
“We support … a high-quality [implementation] of the bay area plan, and will improve the policies and measures to make it more convenient for Hong Kong and Macau residents to develop on the mainland,” he added.
Han also said Beijing would back Hong Kong in tapping into the opportunities offered by the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious global trading network with China at the centre.
“We support Hong Kong and Macau in starting exchanges and cooperating with various countries and regions,” he continued.
Dismissing concerns that Hong Kong could lose what makes it unique as the city worked closer with its mainland neighbours, Han said it was precisely that integration that would allow it, and neighbouring Macau, to continue to prosper.
“We believe that as ‘one country, two systems’ is implemented comprehensively and accurately, Hong Kong and Macau’s exchanges and cooperation with the mainland are being strengthened … and we can certainly maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau,” he added.
The principle allows Hong Kong to retain its own economic and political system.
Fang Zhou, research director of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, a Hong Kong think tank, said Han’s remarks showed that the city could harness its strengths to help the nation’s economy grow.
“The central government … aims to increase the focus on domestic consumption to boost the economy, while balancing it with foreign trade and investment,” he said. “Hong Kong should use its edge in connection with the global market to help boost domestic consumption on the mainland.”
Fang also noted that Beijing was pinning high hopes on Hong Kong’s development as an innovation and technology hub.
“Hong Kong can play a significant role … under the central government’s strategy to promote technological self-sufficiency, [which will be] a key factor in managing the fast-changing international environment,” he said.
Fang added there was no need to worry about the lack of detail in the communique on Hong Kong’s future role.
A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Han’s comments revealed that Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong had not changed.
“Hong Kong’s strengths have always been there, and the central government is saying that they have not forgotten about them,” he said.
“The things that Beijing is going to support Hong Kong to do are also mentioned in the bay area plan, and the 14th five-year plan will not deviate from this framework.”
On the back of the party leadership putting innovation at the centre of China’s growth strategy, the official also said firm policy gains could be expected in that area when the city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, along with her technology chief and other top officials, headed to Beijing on Wednesday to secure state-level support to accelerate local economic recovery.
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