Hong Kong’s leader will for the first time on Wednesday have a seat at the table with top Beijing leaders as they strategise the next steps for creating a regional financial and innovation powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was included in a coordinating body to drive the development of the Greater Bay Area and further integrate Hong Kong and Macau’s economies with those of nine Guangdong cities.
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Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who has been Beijing’s point person on the ambitious bay area project, is likely to lead the group, which will report directly to China’s cabinet, the State Council.
Lam is expected to be joined by her Macau counterpart Fernando Chui Sai-on, Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui and head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng.
Government sources said the group would act as a coordinating body for the 11 cities and make top-level decisions for subordinates to follow.
Members will meet on Wednesday afternoon and an announcement on policy measures is likely to be made afterwards, though details of the entire plan, and how the work will be split among the cities will probably not be available just yet.
“The group is to iron out the different interests among cities and make sure they are on the same page.
“[Lam’s involvement] has shown how Beijing values Hong Kong … It is the first time Hong Kong is participating in the national development strategy,” said Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank based in Beijing.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative in China’s top legislative body, agreed Lam’s inclusion should be taken positively.
“The leading group will make the final decisions about the Greater Bay Area plan…Having the chief executive participate in forging the plan is better than making complaints against some unfavourable terms after the plan is done and announced,” the National People’s Congress Standing Committee member said.
Cao Xudong, a legal scholar at the Center for Studies of Hong Kong Macao and Pearl River Delta of the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the creation of the group was a “starting point for leaders of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to join the composition of national development plans.”
Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of its territory awaiting reunification, while Hong Kong and Macau are its special administrative regions.
“When Hong Kong and Macau were mentioned for the first time in China’s five-year development plan [in 2001], there were lots of debates and the governments were not sure if it was right.
“But today for the Greater Bay Area, participation of local governments is indispensable and the Hong Kong government is more keen to take part,” Cao said.
However, he and Hong Kong political commentator Lau Yui-siu said participation did not equate to influence.
“The chief executive should seize the chance to learn about what the other cities in the Greater Bay Area have been doing, and to look for the best ways to demonstrate Hong Kong’s advantages and contributions,” Lau Yui-siu said.
She should also not shy away from “blunt negotiation and competition” that might surface, he added.
“In the group, Guangdong is more of a competitor, while the central government is both a coordinator and a cooperator.
“To defend Hong Kong’s interests in the Greater Bay Area plan, the chief executive must learn to make handshakes with one hand and fight with the other,” Lau Yui-siu continued.
This is the leader’s third trip to the Chinese capital within a month. In June, Lam had her first official meeting with Han in Beijing where she briefed him on her government’s policies to equip Hong Kong to benefit from the ambitious plan.
A month earlier, Han, ranked No 7 in the Communist Party hierarchy, visited several bay area cities to underscore Beijing’s commitment to the megaproject and urge local leaders to shelve intercity rivalries to pursue national interests.
Lau Siu-kai said the group was likely placed under the authority of the State Council, rather than the Central Committee of the Communist Party, so as to reduce any suggestion it was affecting the “one country, two systems” principle under which China governs Hong Kong.
Lam is expected to return to the city on Thursday morning.