As Hong Kong protests reflect anti-mainland China sentiment, Carrie Lam boosts cross-border ties

Kimmy Chung

Hong Kong’s embattled leader has insisted the city will continue to cooperate with its mainland Chinese neighbours, despite anti-government protests straining cross-border ties.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was speaking after attending the annual pan-Pearl River Delta regional cooperation conference in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Friday. The conference came two days after the chief executive, in a dramatic U-turn, announced she would formally withdraw an extradition bill which sparked a protest crisis running since early June.

The legislation would have allowed the government to transfer fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks an extradition deal, notably mainland China, bringing into sharp focus local worries over integration.

A movement which began with peaceful marches has escalated to include violent clashes with police, and the defacement of China’s national flag outside public buildings and facilities. Sources said mainland authorities had grown wary of working with the city because of the current political sentiment.

Carrie Lam at the meeting which kicked off on Friday. Photo: Handout

But Lam said cross-border cooperation would go on.

“Hong Kong has been reunited with China for 22 years, and over the years, Hong Kong has benefited significantly from opening up and continuous reform of the mainland economy,” she said.

“I believe this should continue for the mutual benefit of Hong Kong and the mainland, and for the people on both sides.”

Asked if protests in Hong Kong were fuelled by residents’ worries over cross-border integration, Lam said: “I don’t want us to rush into a particular social issue being the cause of the current disturbance. We should look deeply and discuss with each other in order to identify those problems so we can find the right solutions.”

She referred to a four-point plan she earlier announced to break the current impasse, which included the bill’s withdrawal and officials visiting communities to have direct dialogue with the public.

“This will require the joint efforts of everyone in society because if we are to stop violence and return to law and order, then we need everyone in Hong Kong to speak loudly against violence,” she said.

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The pan-Pearl River Delta regional cooperation conference is an annual occasion for officials from Hong Kong, Macau, Guangxi, Guangdong province, and seven other provinces in southern China to discuss cooperation matters. The 11 regional economies accounted for more than a third of the country’s population and gross domestic product last year.

Speaking on Friday at the start of the conference – also attended by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen – Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui said regional cooperation with Hong Kong and Macau had been strengthened in aspects such as tourism and technology in the past year.

Protesters have repeatedly clashed with police during the recent unrest in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

He said the central government’s Greater Bay Area plan – which aims to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a hi-tech economic powerhouse – would benefit the other eight provinces in the pan-Pearl River Delta region. He did not touch on protests in Hong Kong.

Kimmy Chung is reporting from Nanning, Guangxi

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