18 January 2020

The Big Picture: HONG KONG PLAN

In a closed-door meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his thoughts about the priorities for the city and its seven million people. Improving the living standards of the general public and fostering the economic development of Hong Kong, an international finance center, are on top of the agenda. Talking to reporters after the meeting, Leung said the Chinese leader told him that political reform in Hong Kong must strictly follow the Basic Law and the decisions of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. However, such remarks were not included in a report carried by the government mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency. China observers believe Xi’s remarks, as related by Leung, provide some insight into Beijing’s agenda for political reforms. Xi appears to be suggesting that political reform should not proceed in a hush way and now is not the right time to plan the next step regarding the matter. Instead, helping the low-income groups, stabilizing the once skyrocketing home prices and further strengthening the city’s economy are Beijing’s urgent assignments for Leung. In a separate meeting, Xi told a Taiwanese envoy that a political solution to the cross-strait issue cannot be postponed forever. His remarks imply that Beijing could be getting a bit impatient in waiting for some positive developments on the Taiwan issue after it has offered economic sweeteners to lure supporters on the island. How to nurture ties with the island and move toward unification of the two sides, which had been torn apart by a civil war, is apparently a more pressing job for Xi.

Smog: After practically setting aside environmental protection in order to sustain rapid economic growth in the past decade, China is now serious about tackling the problem of pollution. The government will set up 43 monitoring spots in 16 provinces and municipalities frequently engulfed by smog to facilitate research on air pollution in different regions, its impact on the health of vulnerable groups and the study of related diseases, according to an official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Official data showed thick and hazardous smog has affected 17 provinces and municipalities with a combined population of 600 million this year. One of the major cities is Beijing, which has been shrouded in smog for several days during the week-long National Day holiday. Some 30 expressways had been forced to closed down due to the foggy weather, including roads linking the capital with Harbin in the northeast, Shanghai in the east, as well as Tianjin and Hebei province. The worsening pollution of air, soil and water have been blamed for a jump in the number of cancer patients in the last couple of years, costing the government billions of yuan in medical expenses. The heavy smog also has deterred international talents from relocating to China and work for the world’s second-biggest economy, slowing efforts to reach the nation’s economic targets by 2020.

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