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Saturday, Apr 13, 2024

China’s finance minister backs Hong Kong ‘broadening international cooperation’

China’s finance minister backs Hong Kong ‘broadening international cooperation’

Chinese finance minister Liu Kun also says Hong Kong’s economic vitality has been revived under Chief Executive John Lee and hopes to ‘also learn’ from city leader.

China’s finance minister has pledged his full support for Hong Kong’s “extensive broadening of international cooperation” and further integration into the national development plan, as he spoke highly of the city’s leader during a meeting in Beijing.

Liu Kun, a key official recently retained by China’s legislature to oversee the country’s macroeconomic policies, on Tuesday said President Xi Jinping had “highly recognised” the work of Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu during their last exchange in December. Liu said he would “also learn” from Lee.

“The Ministry of Finance fully supports Hong Kong, according to the planning of the [Communist] Party and central government, to utilise its unique advantages, extensively broaden international cooperation and better integrate into national development plans,” he told Lee.

The pledge echoed Xi’s words of support to Lee last December during his first duty visit to the nation’s capital as chief executive.

Chief Executive John Lee (second right) during his meeting with Minister of Finance Liu Kun (first left) in Beijing.

The high-level exchange on Tuesday was the first between Lee and leaders of cabinet-level departments during his week-long stay in Beijing, taking place a day after the conclusion of China’s “two sessions”, the annual meetings of the nation’s legislature and top political advisory body.

Liu, 66, kept his role in the recent cabinet shake-up despite reaching the official retirement age of 65, a decision seen by observers as an emphasis on continuity to confront financial headwinds.

His remarks also aligned with those of newly promoted Premier Li Qiang, who on Monday highlighted the central government’s support for Hong Kong to increase its “international competitiveness” and underscored the city’s status as a financial, trading and shipping hub.

China has set an economic growth target of around 5 per cent for the year ahead, which Li conceded was “not easy to achieve”, adding that “high-quality” development was a priority.

According to a three-minute video released by Hong Kong authorities, the finance minister spoke highly of the chief executive’s leadership, quoting Xi’s compliments that Lee’s government “has the courage to take responsibility, delivers work pragmatically and unifies different sectors”.

“[The local government] steadfastly safeguarded national security, significantly boosted the city’s economic vitality, and proactively responded to people’s concerns. Hong Kong is steadily progressing on the right path for the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Liu told Lee.

“From the general secretary’s assessment of you, we shall be here to learn. I shall also learn from you,” the country’s finance minister added, referring to Xi by his title as head of the Communist Party.

Xi was spotted looking for and pointing at Lee after the opening ceremony of the two sessions earlier this month. Lee, who bowed back, told the media afterwards that Xi had always shown his care and encouragement which motivated him to work harder and do more.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Lee was joined by two bureau chiefs – financial services minister Christopher Hui Ching-yu and mainland affairs chief Erick Tsang Kwok-wai. All present wore masks, except Liu and Lee.

The city leader also thanked the ministry for its long-running support of efforts to consolidate Hong Kong as an international financial hub, noting that the sector accounted for more than 20 per cent of the city’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) and 7 per cent of its workforce.

“We have been focusing on the building of a regional hub for bond issuance. In this aspect, we have achieved results that we regard as satisfactory,” he said.

Starry Lee Wai-king, who was appointed as the city’s sole representative to the nation’s top legislative body on Saturday, praised mainland authorities’ quick follow-up on her proposal to expand tax concession schemes in the Greater Bay Area, which she made during the two sessions. She said the swift response was an example of Beijing’s firm support of Hong Kong’s role in bringing mainland enterprises to the world.

City leader John Lee (second left) met with members of Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce in China on Monday in Beijing.

The bay area is Beijing’s plan to link up 11 southern Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, to tap the development potential of its combined of 86 million-strong population.

But she also warned that Hong Kong needed to tread carefully in its efforts to strengthen international connections amid struggles between superpowers.

Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Maria Tam Wai-chu said Hong Kong was in a strategic position for attracting talent from overseas and the mainland, especially as the number of fresh university graduates across the border was estimated to soar to 11 million this year.

Veteran political observer James Sung Lap-kung, of the Hong Kong Progress and Perfection Research Institute, said Liu’s warm words to Lee, as well as the city leader’s packed itinerary in Beijing, indicated that mainland officials had attached great importance to his visit.

He said he believed Xi’s gesture to Lee at the annual parliamentary session’s opening ceremony had helped to set the tone for the standard of treatment the city leader had received during his visit.

“Hong Kong’s importance is high on Beijing’s agenda ... they know how profoundly important it is to maintain the one country, two systems principle and the global connectivity of Hong Kong to break the siege conducted by the United States,” he said. “Hong Kong is expected to see stronger support from the central authorities in future.”

Political commentator Professor Sonny Lo Shiu-hing noted that Liu’s remarks underlined Hong Kong’s dual mission to integrate into the national economy under the bay area initiative and consolidate the city’s international standing.

He also pointed to Liu’s mention of national security at the meeting, which he said suggested that the issue remained a priority, despite perhaps not currently being seen as a pressing problem in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lee and cultural minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung visited the Palace Museum in Beijing and met with its director Wang Xudong.

Lee said he looked forward to the institution utilising the Hong Kong Palace Museum as an East-meets-West platform for international cultural exchange and amplifier for the country’s voice on the global stage, according to a government press release.

Meanwhile, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will visit Guangzhou on Wednesday to meet provincial leaders and officials from the mainland city to discuss cooperation over high-quality development and economic integration in the bay area.

Chan will also visit a tech company and meet Hong Kong people living in Guangzhou during his one-day trip.


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