19 October 2019
People watch a television broadcast of President Xi Jinping's speech at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
People watch a television broadcast of President Xi Jinping's speech at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Will Beijing policies on Hong Kong change under new leadership?

China’s Communist Party on Wednesday unveiled its new leadership for the next five years. 

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will remain in the party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. Also in the innermost circle of power are five new faces, including Li Zhanshu, who is expected to play an important role in Hong Kong and Macau affairs as he may replace Zhang Dejiang as the point man of the party’s office in charge of the two special administrative regions.

Li is considered as Xi’s most trusted ally in the party’s 25-member Politburo. During the past five years since Xi assumed the helm of the party, Li has accompanied the Chinese leader on most of his domestic and overseas trips. Li also leads the daily operation of the party’s central office.

Given that he is now number three in the seven-member Standing Committee, it is likely that he will be named chairman of the National People’s Congress, the nation’s legislature, next year, replacing Zhang.

While Li is also expected to assume the role of overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, some China watchers believe that it is Wang Yang, the fourth-ranked member of the Standing Committee, who will formally take over the Hong Kong and Macau office, given his experience in dealing with the two SARs as former party chief of neighboring Guangdong province.

China’s macro policies for Hong Kong are not expected to face dramatic changes since the top boss is still Xi. But as the Chinese leader has indicated in his speech at the opening of the party’s just-concluded congress, and also during his visit to Hong Kong in July, Beijing is expected to tighten its grip on the territory, with Li making sure that those policies are assiduously implemented.

The central authorities will step up efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland, turning it into a truly Chinese metropolis in terms of political development while maintaining its uniqueness as an international financial center.

Beijing is also expected to put more resources into changing the city’s political landscape, mainly by supporting the pro-establishment camp in elections. The near-term goal is to erode the power base of the democrats, who garnered around 55 percent of the vote in the geographical constituencies in the last Legislative Council election.

While Xi will be very busy implementing his national agenda as well dealing with international affairs, he will need a trusted ally to implement his plans for the territory and monitor the loyalty and performance of the Hong Kong government.

In his speech at the party’s national congress, Xi called for the melding of Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong and Macau with their “high degree of autonomy” in a natural or “organic” way.

While stressing that the “one country, two systems” model is an integral part of the Communist Party’s governance ideology and canon, Xi insists that the central government must implement its “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the two SARs.

Simply put, he would like to see less of Hong Kong’s uniqueness while nurturing a deep sense of patriotism among its people, which means loyalty to the Communist Party.

What saddens – or, as some would say, angers – Beijing is that 20 years after the handover, and after all the largesse and beneficial policies it has showered on the territory, Hong Kong people have yet to show their loyalty to the motherland.

The problem is that the more the Hong Kong government demands loyalty from them, the more they seem to be challenging Beijing’s authority.

Beijing believes education holds the key to changing the hearts and minds of the people, especially the youth, and nurturing their love for the motherland.

This is the reason why Lam has appointed a pro-Beijing educator to oversee her policy in the sector. With the pressure from the north increasing, it is no surprise that the Hong Kong government has arranged for local schools to watch the live broadcast of the Basic Law conference next month. It is part of the efforts to boost local students’ awareness and acceptance that Hong Kong is an inextricable part of China, that it is under the sovereignty of China.

An online editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, says the Basic Law’s guarantee that Hong Kong’s way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years from the handover doesn’t mean Beijing will leave the city to its own devices during that period.

According to the article, some forces, under the guise of fighting for democracy, have tried to turn the SAR into a base to undermine China, citing the Occupy protests of 2014 and the Mong Kok clashes last year as evidence.

That’s why Beijing needs to suppress any independence advocacy, the editorial says, adding that it’s time to correct the misconception that the SAR’s autonomy is more important than the central government’s comprehensive powers of governance over the territory.

Now it’s clear that Hong Kong’s hopes for political reform will remain unfulfilled as such hopes are not in line with Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the city.

The SAR government will be allowed to formulate and implement livelihood and housing policies, but Beijing will see to it that all aspects of Hong Kong life – from politics to education – remain under China’s jurisdiction. That’s Beijing’s idea of “one country, two systems”.

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EJ Insight writer