Why did China’s vice-premier travel south to meet Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam?

Ng Kang-chung
·4-min read

Cross-border technological collaboration took centre stage when Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng met Hong Kong’s leader in Guangzhou on the Greater Bay Area regional integration plan on Thursday.

Previously, such high-level talks took place in Beijing and involved Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor along with the constitutional affairs chief. But by making a rare trip south to meet Lam, her ministers in charge of technology and financial services, as well as local officials, Han showed that Beijing was keen to move beyond mere talk and start focusing on implementation, analysts said.

“The central government expects the Greater Bay Area [project] to enter a phase where more concrete work should be delivered,” said Hui Ching, research director of policy think tank the Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute. “More of the leading group’s meetings may be held in Guangdong in the future.”

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Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng. Photo: EPA-EFE
Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng. Photo: EPA-EFE

The Greater Bay Area blueprint calls for turning Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a megalopolis focused on innovation and technology to rival other powerhouses such as Silicon Valley.

A source told the Post Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng was also in Guangzhou on Thursday and met Han separately.

The talks marked the first time Beijing’s leading group for developing the Bay Area had officially met since November 2019 – months before the coronavirus pandemic broke out – and the first time the vice-premier held talks devoted to a specific theme with the leaders of Hong Kong and Macau in Guangdong’s provincial capital.

Hong Kong’s constitutional and mainland affairs chief, as well as the director of the Chief Executive’s Office, had previously accompanied Lam to the leading group meetings, but this time it was the city’s technology and financial services chief who travelled with her to attend the talks.

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The Hong Kong government said in a statement that Lam, who flew to Guangzhou on Wednesday after attending the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, thanked the mainland for supporting measures that supported Hong Kong residents and companies in developing the Bay Area.

Lam noted that the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Co-operation Zone, a technology park that spans both sides of the border, provided a “key impetus to developing an international innovation and technology hub” in the Bay Area.

“[Lam] expressed gratitude to the central authorities for their support in the 14th five-year plan of the country for the Shenzhen- Hong Kong Loop to be a platform for cooperation among Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau,” the statement said.

Lam also thanked Beijing for imposing the national security law on Hong Kong and overhauling the city’s electoral system to put the implementation of “one country two systems” back on the right track, it added.

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Han last month met Lam and Ho on the sidelines of the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Han had urged her to continue to treat the fight against Covid-19 as her top priority but said the city must also implement Beijing’s plan to revamp the electoral system, which he described as a “battle” to defend the rule of law against subversion.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-president of Beijing’s semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, believed that Han would remind officials from different mainland cities to cooperate and not compete with each other.

“His visit can also help balance the interests of various local authorities,” Lau said. “Instead of asking several top local officials to Beijing to listen to their reports, Han perhaps can meet some middle-level or frontline officials in Guangzhou to see for himself how they work to deliver the Greater Bay Area plan.”

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