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March 2, 2024
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Chinese leaders to take a more active role in the running of Hong Kong: analysts

Reports are emerging that the Chinese government department in charge of Hong Kong will likely be placed under the direct control of the ruling Communist Party leadership in Beijing, who will then take a more active role in the day-to-day running of the former British colony.

Party leader Xi Jinping will table some of the restructuring plans at the first session of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, which opens in Beijing on March 5, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Hong Kong newspapers said the plan includes changes to the way Beijing exercises power in Hong Kong and Macau to allow stronger top-down leadership by the ruling party, despite promises that both former colonies would be left to govern their own affairs under Chinese rule.

“One proposal is to upgrade the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office from an institution, currently under the State Council, to a body directly under the party and the central government,” Hong Kong’s The Standard newspaper reported.

The Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily said the new arrangement would be “an upgrade and expansion” of the office’s power, while the English-language South China Morning Post said congress delegates, the vast majority of whom always vote for government proposals, would “deliberate” the proposals on Sunday.

It quoted experts as saying that the office would likely report directly to the Communist Party Central Committee, with Wang Huning or Ding Xuexiang — both of whom sit on the all-powerful Politburo standing committee — the most likely candidates to head the new body.

Commentators said the plan, if implemented, will mean that Beijing can respond at will to events in Hong Kong without having to justify its actions with references to the cities’ mini-constitutions, known as their Basic Law.

National Security Law

In 2020, Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong by inserting it into Annex III of the Basic Law, bypassing the need to have it pass in the city’s own legislature. 

By 2022, changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system had barred opposition candidates from running for the legislature, with a compliant Legislative Council ready and willing to nod through any government proposal.

ENG_CHN_HongKongReshuffle_03032023.2.JPG
The Chinese national flag flies on the offices of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council and National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing, Aug. 12, 2019. Credit: Reuters

Both those changes were implemented by the National People’s Congress standing committee, involving yet another high-ranking state body in the running of Hong Kong. The reported restructuring would likely streamline that process, commentators said.

Veteran journalist and current affairs analyst Ching Cheong said rumors that Beijing was planning such a move first began to emerge five years ago, around the same time that the National People’s Congress nodded through amendments to the Chinese constitution abolishing presidential term limits, paving the way for indefinite rule by Xi Jinping.

“Xi Jinping has quoted Mao Zedong’s words on a regular basis during the past few years … [saying that] the party should control everything, from the workers and farmers to businesses and the military,” he said. “Now it wants to get [directly] involved in the running of Hong Kong.”

While Hong Kong has long been expected to follow diktats from Beijing, officials have been somewhat limited by the legacy approach of the State Council, which relies on references to the Basic Law to justify any changes made in the city.

“It will be easier for them to govern at will if they can get rid of the constraints under the Basic Law,” Ching said. “The central government will then be able to govern Hong Kong more directly, and with more flexibility.”

Taiwan

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the move could also mean that Beijing tries to control the relationship between Hong Kong and the democratic island of Taiwan, which it has threatened to annex with military force in the absence of moves towards peaceful “unification” under Chinese.

Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the 73-year-old People’s Republic of China, has repeatedly said it has no wish to give up its sovereignty or democratic way of life under the “one country, two systems” that has led to a wholesale erosion of Hong Kong’s traditional freedoms.

“If there is military conflict across the Taiwan Strait … then Beijing would definitely expect Hong Kong to be involved,” Lau said.

“That’s why Hong Kong is now being brought under the direct management of the Chinese Communist Party, so it can better manage or control it,” he said.

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A TV screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping during the live broadcast of the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, at a restaurant in Hong Kong, China October 22, 2022. Credit: Reuters

Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said the restructuring, if implemented as reported, is tantamount to abolishing the promises that Hong Kong would retain its way of life under the “one country, two systems” framework promised by Beijing.

“Hong Kong still has a certain amount of residual value [to Beijing], particularly when it comes to financial integration and breaking through technology embargoes [imposed by the United States],” Sang said.

“But one country, two systems has long existed in name only, and I don’t think it will continue,” he said. “The residual value of Hong Kong lies in [opportunities] for money-making while maintaining security for party and country.”

He said if party ideologue Wang Huning is put in charge of a new body governing Hong Kong, it will likely herald a sharp turn to the left — away from market economics — in the way the city is run.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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