Hong Kong’s leader said on Wednesday the city’s judicial independence and other strengths would not be compromised under Beijing’s plan to integrate it and its neighbours into a dynamic economic hub.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also said she expected new cross-border transport projects, such as a high-speed rail line to open later this month, to reinforce Hong Kong’s role as an international logistics hub.
Lam made the remarks as she visited Guangzhou to attend a series of meetings. She was at the opening of a high-ranking regional forum alongside top officials from the pan-Pearl River Delta – an area encompassing Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong province and eight other mainland provinces or regions in southern and southwestern China.
The regional forum has been organised every year, or every other year, since 2004. Mainland officials who attended the opening ceremony this year included Guangdong party chief Li Xi and governor Ma Xingrui.
Speaking at a legal services forum organised by Hong Kong’s justice department, and Trade Development Council, Lam dismissed critics’ worries over Beijing’s “Greater Bay Area” plan, which aims at integrating Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an innovation hub rivalling Silicon Valley.
“Some people are worried that the plan will affect the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ ... But Hong Kong’s integration would surely not make one country, two systems a blurry [principle],” she said.
Lam’s remarks came weeks after two former senior Hong Kong officials urged authorities to highlight the city’s judicial independence under the principle, under which it has been governed since it was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Ex-justice chief Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and ex-finance minister Antony Leung Kam-chung said there were “misconceptions” internationally regarding the city’s legal system.
Quoting President Xi Jinping, Lam said one country, two systems was an important foundation for the Greater Bay Area to be influential internationally.
“Judicial independence is crucial in maintaining our rule of law ... We will give full play to our strengths in supporting and pushing forward the development of the bay area,” she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lam said at the forum’s opening ceremony that the integration project would work well with the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a transcontinental trade and infrastructure investment initiative proposed by Xi.
“The bay area’s development will offer strong support for belt and road, as it will make the region’s market more open,” she said.
“Hong Kong is also an important transport and logistics hub under the Belt and Road Initiative.”
She said that while it had taken her two hours to travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou on Monday, the travel time between the cities would be cut to less than 50 minutes when the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link opens on September 23.
Among the 44 [mainland] stations with direct trains from the West Kowloon station, 37 are in the pan-Pearl River Delta region
Chief Executive Carrie Lam
“Among the 44 [mainland] stations with direct trains from the West Kowloon station, 37 are in the pan-Pearl River Delta region ... I would like to invite our good friends from the region to come to Hong Kong to take a look soon.”
At the opening ceremony, Guangdong party chief Li and Hu Zucai, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, both touched on the importance of the region taking opportunities under the Belt and Road Initiative and the bay area project to promote economic growth.
Li said that since 2012 cooperation had strengthened among the provinces and regions represented, and it had helped the region’s economy grow stronger and more competitive. He said as of last year, the total GDP of the pan-Pearl River Delta region was nearly 30 trillion yuan (US$4.4 trillion), or about a third of China’s total gross domestic product.
Lam joined other meetings on Wednesday, exchanging views with business and political leaders from Macau and the mainland provinces. That included a meeting with Fujian provincial governor Tang Dengjie.