Hong Kong-based media have shown great interest in the ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China but some of the “mainstream media” find themselves obsessing over various trivia instead of what is most important. One of the gossipy varieties is guessing high-level personnel changes of the CPC and another features speculation about Hong Kong-related policy adjustment. The opposition camp and its cheerleaders, as always, cannot stop complaining about the central government’s “hard-line” approach toward them. But I believe what deserves the most attention from society is the blueprint for the nation’s development that is emerging on the 19th National Congress, especially the parts concerning Hong Kong’s development.
General Secretary Xi Jinping said in his report: “From now to the year 2020 is the decisive period for fully achieving our goal of building up a moderately prosperous society.” The CPC has drawn up a two-stage development plan for the period from 2020 to the middle of the 21st century to develop China into a “great modern socialist country”. In the first stage from 2020 to 2035, the CPC will build on the foundation created by the moderately prosperous society with a further 15 years of hard work to see that socialist modernization is basically realized. In the second stage — from 2035 to the middle of the 21st century — the CPC will, building on having basically achieved modernization, work hard for a further 15 years and develop China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.
As far as Hong Kong is concerned, the plan mentioned above means the following: Firstly that the current special administrative region government is tasked with leading Hong Kong not only in joining nationwide efforts to achieve the immediate goal of becoming a moderately prosperous society in the year 2020. It also has to participate in the nation’s further efforts planned for 2020-35 in the latter two years of its current term in office (2020-22).
Secondly Hong Kong, beginning with the sixth-term SAR government which takes over in 2022, up to the year 2047, when the 10th-term SAR government is in office, will keep its economic, political and social development in sync with the nation’s future development in two 15-year plan periods.
There is an opinion that the SAR’s mission is to “keep Hong Kong’s existing capitalist system and lifestyle unchanged for 50 years”. In fact, however, the original intention of the phrase “unchanged for 50 years” in the Basic Law is to maintain Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity rather than an excuse to be complacent.
Another opinion found in Hong Kong is that the SAR does not need to coordinate with the mainland over the exercise of “one country, two systems”, “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and high degree of autonomy or developing the economy and improving people’s livelihood and other internal affairs. Nor does it need to participate in the nation’s overall development. This view is unrealistic to say the least. Since the HKSAR signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with the mainland in June 2003 the integration of Hong Kong’s economy into the mainland’s has become neither reversible nor stoppable. It is no longer possible for Hong Kong to maintain economic growth without involving the mainland. Only by participating in the country’s development can Hong Kong achieve its own development. With more than 7.3 million people living in an area slightly bigger than 1,100 square kilometers, Hong Kong simply cannot afford to be complacent and conservative. The difference between flowing and stagnant water is obvious and no one in their right mind would pick the stagnant. Hong Kong depends on the mainland for flowing water, both literally and figuratively.
Still another opinion insists Hong Kong’s free-market economy does not need a development plan drawn up by the government as the central government does for the national economy. This is as pedantic as they come. The reality is many governments in the world have done that for their free-market economies with varying degrees of success. A simple equation between market economy and capitalism, or between planning and socialism, does not stand. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged in her first Policy Address earlier this month that the current SAR government will be a “promoter” for economic development and “facilitator” for cooperation with other governments in economic cooperation. Her address has about 50,000 Chinese characters and includes a wide range of short- and long-term policies and measures. This shows that the current SAR government is determined to play its role more proactively than its predecessors as well as respecting free-market rules in general.
The opposition is still trapped in the fog of its own making called “true democracy” and insists the main focus of Hong Kong’s development should be on democratic elections instead of the economy and people’s well-being. The opposition’s fixation with acquiring the “universal rein” of Western-style representative democracy puts them in direct conflict with popular demand for tangible rewards from socio-economic development. As a result Hong Kong has lost huge amounts of precious time and public resources dealing with those knuckleheads left and right. It is high time Hong Kong stopped political wrangling and focused on catching up with the national development and becoming a part of it, looking forward to the year 2020, 2035, 2050 and beyond.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 9, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, October 23, 2017)