Purge and merge: Beijing’s plan for Hong Kong

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Nipping calls for Hong Kong’s independence in the bud and drawing the city closer to the mainland are clear goals for Beijing, said top-level politicians gathered in the nation’s capital last week.

In his work report to the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 5, Premier Mr Li Keqiang said the central government “will fully support the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau to administer the cities in accordance with the law.”

Mr Zhang Xiaoming, director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the comments show Beijing’s support for Hong Kong’s move to use the city’s Societies Ordinance to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP).

Last year, HKNP was banned by the government on the grounds of national security and public safety. It was the first time that Hong Kong sought to ban a political party.

Speaking to the press in Beijing last week, Mr Zhang said advocacy for Hong Kong’s independence “severely contravenes” the Basic Law and China’s Constitution and “poses a serious threat to national security”, and that the central government has “zero tolerance” to it.

At the meeting of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on March 3, Chairman Mr Wang Yang also said the committee supports the Hong Kong government’s unequivocal efforts in clamping down on calls for the city’s independence last year.

Last month, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Mrs Carrie Lam was asked by Beijing to hand in a report on the banned party, which will detail the legal grounds and procedures for prohibiting the party to operate.

It’s all one Bay

While much of the discussion involving Hong Kong during the “Two Meetings” in Beijing focused on the banning of the HKNP, top policymakers also laid out plans to draw Hong Kong, Macau and eleven mainland cities together to create a regional powerhouse in what it calls the “Greater Bay Area”.

Last month, China unveiled the “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area”. The plan identifies Hong Kong as a core city along with Macao, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The city will also serve as an international financial centre, a logistics, trading and aviation hub and an arbitration centre in the Asian-Pacific region under the blueprint.

“[The central government] will support Hong Kong to grasp the enormous opportunities presented by the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and the Greater Bay Area and to leverage its advantages to deepen co-operation with the mainland,” said Mr Li in his work report.

The launch of the plan has led to concerns among local pro-democracy lawmakers that the city is losing its autonomy, as it is now being included in a national development plan.

But Tan Tieniu, vice minister of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, stressed that the central government has sought advice from different sectors in the city and that all stakeholders have taken part in drafting the blueprint when reporting to the CPPCC last week.

Implementing the plan will likely face significant challenges from covering multiple currencies, jurisdictions and tax regimes.

Attending the meetings in Beijing last week, Mr Henry Tang Ying-yen, Hong Kong’s former financial secretary, made six proposals to the central government regarding culture, transportation, the legal system, financial payments, the tax regime and support for private enterprises to erase barriers among the cities.

Mr Tang suggests allowing drivers to move freely between the 11 cities with one document and allowing Hong Kong-based e-wallets to be used in mainland China to facilitate the flow of capital.

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