23 February 2019
It's possible that Hong Kong people will see no progress in their democratic development for at least five years under Carrie Lam (above). Photo: Bloomberg
It's possible that Hong Kong people will see no progress in their democratic development for at least five years under Carrie Lam (above). Photo: Bloomberg

Bay area development, not political reform, tops Lam’s agenda

Carrie Lam was formally appointed Hong Kong chief executive on Tuesday after she received her letter of appointment from Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.

Also, Lam received a key task from top leaders before she takes office on July 1.

Li told Lam to do her utmost to ensure the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, deepen cooperation between Hong Kong and China and improve the lives of its people.

Indeed, Li has set the task for the new chief executive to integrate Hong Kong into the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area, along with the launch of the bond trading link between Hong Kong and China. Both initiatives were announced by Li in his policy report last month.

Lam said she understands that she is accountable to both the central government and the people of Hong Kong, adding she will uphold the “one country, two systems” principle while maintaining Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy. She also pledged to unite society.

President Xi Jinping praised Lam and said she has the full backing of Beijing to govern Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law, and the “one country, two systems” principle.

Xi called her a hardworking and practical person who is able to handle complicated situations and urged her to settle deep-rooted conflicts which have existed since the handover 20 years ago.

Outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying, now a state leader after his promotion to China’s highest political advisory body, spoke to the media about the importance of Hong Kong under Beijing’s bay area development plan.

Leung will lead a delegation to Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai during a three-day visit next week to learn more about the their progress in infrastructure, town planning, innovation and technology, as well as meet with local leaders.

Beijing’s key task for Lam is to integrate Hong Kong into the bay area development, as well as implement Hong Kong’s political reform roadmap under the Aug. 31, 2014 framework laid out by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The task is a complicated situation that Lam needs to deal with after July 1. But Lam will need to follow Beijing’s game plan in the bay area development to stimulate Hong Kong’s economic growth.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong public expects her to push forward a more democratic system.

They have no opinions about the planned regional economic development by the central government. The bay area concept is more or less the same as what Beijing had planned in the Pan Pearl River Delta development in the mid 2000s. Nothing happened to boost the local economy.

After five years under Leung’s pro-Beijing rule, Hong Kong people like to take a step back from the mandatory economic integration with China.

They want to maintain a certain distance to keep Hong Kong’s uniqueness and competitiveness.

If anything, Hong Kong’s unique legal system and status as an international financial center should allow it to play a leading role in the bay area project, rather than be forced to develop projects with other Chinese cities such as a science park on the border with Shenzhen.

A few weeks ago, after Lam’s election victory, she expressed her concern about the Liaison Office meddling in the government’s affairs during the Leung administration.

But after she received her marching orders from Xi and Li on Tuesday, it is quite clear that she is well prepared for a deeper involvement by the central authorities in Hong Kong’s internal affairs such as planning Hong Kong’s role in the bay area development.

In fact, Leung has said his delegation will prepare a report to the National Development and Reform Commission on setting up the bay area policy framework.

That means Leung will kick-start the bay area project during his watch and it can be expected that he will continue to play a role by monitoring his successor in to pushing the plan forward in the next five years.

Political reform could be left on the back burner until Hong Kong’s economic integration is completed.

It’s possible that Hong Kong people will see no progress in their democratic development for at least five years under Lam. That could be the new norm.

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EJ Insight writer

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