Chief executives of Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (SARs) attended a central government level policymaking meeting in Beijing for the first time on Wednesday, leading analysts to say the move shows the central government attaches great importance to the integration of Hong Kong and Macao into mainstream mainland affairs.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR, attended the first meeting of the leading group for the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area on Wednesday, according to the news site takungpao.com.
The group is chaired by Vice Premier Han Zheng and its membership also includes Li Xi, Party chief of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Macao's Chief Executive Chui Sai On, as well as representatives from the National Development and Reform Commission.
This is the first time that chief executives of Hong Kong and Macao have joined a leading group of the central government. The two SARs were previously represented by officials from the Beijing-based Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.
Having the chief executives of the two SARs join the group is "well reasoned," and will facilitate Hong Kong and Macao involvement with other representatives in the group through a more effective communication mechanism, said Victor Chan, vice president of the Hong Kong Association of Young Commentators, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit organization for political commentary.
Including the chief executives of the two SARs will smooth on the development and decision-making of the Greater Bay Area, since the integration project involves three separate customs territories and sets of laws, said Tian Feilong, an assistant professor at Beijing-based Beihang University.
Better integration of Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland will bring benefits, including industrial upgrading and transformation and innovation in manufacturing, while allowing Hong Kong to strengthen its sense of identity, Tian told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Including Hong Kong's chief executive in the policymaking group "allows Hong Kong people to seek greater opportunities as part of the Greater Bay Area, which will also alleviate and dismiss localism and Hong Kong-independence thinking," Tian noted.
Deepening economic integration with the mainland will strengthen the Hong Kong people's sense of national identity, Chan told the Global Times on Wednesday. Along with the two SARs, the Greater Bay Area is made up of nine cities in Guangdong Province, including tech-hub Shenzhen and trade center Guangzhou.
Hong Kong's growth is limited by land and human resources, but the Great Bay Area initiative, which has been lifted to a national strategic level, will ease these constraints, Lam said at the Boao Forum in April.
The Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Railway, which links Hong Kong to the high-speed rail network of the mainland, is expected to begin operating in the third quarter, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday. Policies for improved transport facilities and expedited employment, education and medical services for people from Hong Kong and Macao in the mainland are also in the works.
Hong Kong is playing a grearer role in the country's overall development strategy, Chan said. "More Hong Kong representatives will join different leading groups of the central government, allowing Hong Kong to play a bigger role in domestic affairs in the future, such as finances, creative technology and poverty alleviation."
Fan Peng, a research fellow at the Institute of Political Science under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a member at Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, echoed Chan, saying the leading group is a supplementary mechanism of the central political system and was set up to implement major national strategies that involve multiple departments.