From the Magazine
Restoring luster to the pearl of the Orient
Hong Kong embarks on a new journey 25 years after its return to the motherland
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2022-07-01  ·   Source: NO.27 JULY 7, 2022

A view of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, China, on June 22 (XINHUA)

Hong Kong has made an "irreplaceable contribution." Since its return, it has contributed greatly to the motherland's long-term, steady and fast economic growth, President Xi Jinping said on July 1.

It has become an integral part of the country's overall development and actively aligned with national development strategies, Xi said at a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland and the inaugural ceremony of the sixth-term government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The Central Government fully supports Hong Kong in aligning with national development strategies, developing more extensive and closer exchanges and cooperation with the world, advancing reforms in an active and prudent manner and fully unleashing the enormous creativity and development vitality of Hong Kong society, he said.

At the ceremony, Xi administered the oath of office to the sixth-term Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and other principal officials.

President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan wave to the welcoming crowd upon their arrival in Hong Kong on June 30 (XINHUA)  

A new chapter

Shortly before the celebrations, the State Council rolled out new measures to further open up a district in its neighboring Guangdong Province to enhance the integration of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA).

An overall plan with detailed measures to promote the development of Nansha District in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, was released on June 14 in a bid to deepen comprehensive cooperation within the GBA. Nansha, three decades ago an underdeveloped stretch of land in southernmost Guangzhou, in recent years has developed into a new favored place within the GBA following Qianhai in Shenzhen, and Hengqin New Area in Zhuhai, both in Guangdong.

The overall plan is expected to inject new momentum into the development of the GBA and Hong Kong.

Then Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor encouraged different sectors of society to proactively seize the opportunities generated by the new plan in Nansha and join hands in taking forward the development of the GBA.

"Hong Kong has the institutional strength of One Country, Two Systems and offers a first-class business environment," Lam said on June 16.

Lee has also underlined the need for Hong Kong to seize opportunities produced by the GBA to align the region with China's mainland and the rest of the world.

Lee is the sixth-term chief executive of Hong Kong SAR and the first one after the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill was implemented in the region in 2021. The new electoral system and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong SAR (National Security Law in Hong Kong) are two major steps that the Central Government took to put Hong Kong back on the right track after the social unrest in 2019.

The law, adopted on June 30, 2020, has clearly defined four categories of crimes that severely endanger national security and their corresponding penalties, as well as established and improved the enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security at the levels of both the Central Government and Hong Kong SAR.

The new electoral system followed in 2021. The amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of Hong Kong SAR, respectively concerning the method for electing the Hong Kong SAR chief executive and the method for the formation of the Hong Kong SAR Legislative Council (LegCo) and its voting procedures, were passed during a session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in March of the year.

Under the new electoral system, the Hong Kong SAR Election Committee, originally established for the nomination and election of the chief executive, was reformed and given greater authorization. Its membership has been expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 and it now features two more key functions: electing a relatively large proportion of LegCo members and participating in the nominations of all LegCo candidates. LegCo membership has also been increased from 70 to 90.

"The 25-year practice of the One Country, Two Systems policy in Hong Kong SAR is a unique exploration of an innovative governance framework," Henry Ho, founder and Chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum, told Beijing Review. "The quarter-century journey wasn't all smooth sailing, though."

The misinterpretation of the policy resulted in a severe situation, including violent incidents and the calls for "Hong Kong independence," according to Ho. "One country is the premise of the two systems, but the latter for a long time received more attention—before and after Hong Kong's return to the motherland."

The award ceremony of a Putonghua (standard Chinese language) competition for primary and secondary schools takes place in Hong Kong on June 12 (XINHUA)

A safe harbor

Chris Tang Ping-keung, Secretary for Security of Hong Kong SAR, revealed during an interview with Global Times that in 2021 the Security Bureau, along with the Hong Kong Police Force and other Disciplined Services, engaged in a series of law enforcement activities targeting individuals and organizations endangering national security.

"Since the National Security Law in Hong Kong took effect, 189 individuals have been arrested by the police for endangering national security; among them, 122 were prosecuted. Five enterprises, too, have been taken to court," Tang said.

The law has helped restore order in the SAR. Tang also revealed that the number of criminal cases recorded in the first quarter of 2022 fell 6.2 percent year on year, among which the cases related to violence dropped 10 percent, and robbery cases went down 23.3 percent—both hitting a record low in recent years.

"The measures from the central authorities have enabled Hong Kong to achieve a major transition from turmoil to order," said Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, a member of the LegCo, revealing that the average daily turnover of Hong Kong stocks has jumped almost 60 percent from the 12 months preceding the law's enforcement, reaching HK$150 billion ($19.11 billion).

Ho quoted Ji Pengfei, Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council from 1983 to 1990 and Chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law of Hong Kong SAR. Ji mentioned at the Third Session of the Seventh NPC in 1990, "The political structure of Hong Kong SAR should accord with the principle of One Country, Two Systems... Consideration must be given to the interests of the different sectors of society and a democratic system that suits Hong Kong's reality should gradually be introduced."

Ho echoed Ji's words and said the new electoral system has created a fresh outlook for Hong Kong SAR. So far, the Election Committee elections, which took place in September 2021, the LegCo election in December 2021, and the Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive election this May were all conducted and concluded in orderly manner.

Strong support

In the past quarter-century, Hong Kong has encountered many challenges, including the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, the international financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020. "Hong Kong has seen many problems," Ho said. "And the Central Government has always offered strong support for its stability and development over the past years."

Figures from the official Hong Kong SAR Government website showed that China's mainland has become Hong Kong's largest export market and source of imports, and Hong Kong has long been the mainland's largest offshore financing platform. After its return to the motherland in 1997, Hong Kong technically continues to be treated as its own separate customs territory. More than half of the listed firms in Hong Kong are from China's mainland. The renminbi deposit balance in Hong Kong had increased by nearly 133 times from about 6.3 billion yuan ($940 million) at the end of May 2004 to 841.9 billion yuan ($125.78 billion) at the end of April, and over 70 percent of the world's offshore renminbi payments are handled in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has maintained its status as the No.1 financial center in Asia. In the latest edition of the Global Financial Centers Index jointly published by British think tank Z/Yen Group and the China Development Institute in Shenzhen, Hong Kong maintained its third place in the overall global ranking, right after New York and London. Hong Kong's GDP grew from HK$1.37 trillion to $2.86 trillion ($174.51 billion to $364.31 billion) from 1997 to 2021, growing at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in real terms.

"As China grows, Hong Kong grows with it," said Allan Zeman, Chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, a key player in Hong Kong's property market. "One Country, Two Systems has worked as demonstrated by the region now being back on track. Today, with patriots governing Hong Kong, we are on our way to a very strong Hong Kong."

The Central Government has also provided firm support for containing the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong. By March 24, six Central Government-funded temporary hospitals had been set up in Hong Kong, providing about 20,000 beds. Special trains have been launched to deliver pandemic prevention and control materials and many mainland medical teams have been dispatched to Hong Kong since 2020.

With the announcement of the outline development plan for the GBA in February 2019, Hong Kong's integration with China's mainland has been fast-tracked. "The number of Hong Kong youth seeking opportunities in the mainland for further study, business and work has been on the obvious rise," Ho said. "And many places in the GBA have rolled out preferential measures for Hong Kong entrepreneurs."

Under the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) approved by the Central Government, Hong Kong will continue to harbor "four traditional centers," namely, an international center for finance, transportation and trade, as well as a center for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region.

Apart from that, the Central Government also supports Hong Kong in its development of "four emerging centers:" an international aviation hub, an international innovation and technology hub, a regional intellectual property trading center and a hub for the arts and cultural exchanges.

"We have confidence in the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong," Ho said.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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