Carrie Lam (left) is received by Han Zheng in Beijing on November 6, 2020. Photo: HK Govt

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam was met and praised by Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, who chairs the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, on Friday morning at the end of her three-day visit to Beijing.

At the start of the meeting at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing, Han conveyed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s greeting to Lam and the visiting Hong Kong officials. He commended Lam for leading her government in tackling various challenges this year, from controlling the spread of Covid-19 and improving the economy to implementing the national security law.

Han said the chief executive had been “proactive and effective” in maintaining the stability of the special administrative region. He said the central government firmly supports her administration.

Han said he was told that Lam and her officials had had productive discussions with various Chinese ministries in Beijing and received strong support from central government departments. He said Lam had proposed good ideas, policy and work plans and had fully complied with the central government’s directives.

“The central government and all departments fully support all the work that can maintain Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability, improve Hong Kong people’s livelihood and promote the territory’s integration with the country and the Greater Bay Area region,” Han said, adding that the special administrative region should understand the country’s development planning in the 14th Five Year Plan, make good use of the city’s advantages and find its position in the plan.

Lam originally planned to deliver her fourth Policy Address on October 14 but she postponed it due to meetings scheduled with Chinese ministerial officials. On October 14, she attended a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone but only briefly intersected with Xi during the event. In his speech, Xi said Shenzhen would be the core engine driving the development of the Greater Bay Area.

When Lam said she would visit Beijing in late October, she was apparently not aware that the Communist Party of China Central Committee would be holding its fifth plenary session to discuss the 14th Five Year Plan between October 26 and 29.

On October 27, Lam announced that she would visit Beijing and the Greater Bay Area between November 4 and 7. She later said she would not disclose whether she would meet any Chinese leaders in Beijing. Lam said Tuesday that she would deliver her Policy Address on November 25.

Hong Kong political commentator Yau Ching-yuen said it was unfortunate that Lam was not received by Xi during her three-day visit to Beijing. Yau said that while Han was a state leader, Xi was a more important decision-maker in the context of Hong Kong’s affairs.

Johnny Lau, another political commentator, said Lam lacked political sense and failed to prepare for Xi’s Shenzhen visit in mid-October. Lau said Lam did not understand China as well as she thought. He said there was no incentive for Beijing to launch any support measures for Hong Kong.

Lau said the central government would emphasize Beijing’s political control over Hong Kong rather than its economic development during the 14th Five Year Plan period (2021-2025). Lau said Beijing was worried that Hong Kong would collude with foreign powers and undermine the political stability of mainland China. He said Beijing continued to tighten its control over Hong Kong on national security grounds while Hong Kong’s people increasingly distrusted the central government due to their deteriorating freedoms, creating a vicious circle.

Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, the director of the ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research, said Lam had made proposals for economic cooperation with mainland China but they would not help Hong Kong boost its economy and create jobs. Kwan said they would be helpful only if mainland China could immediately reopen its border with Hong Kong.

“We have updated mainland health authorities on Hong Kong’s latest anti-Covid strategy, but up until this very moment, we have been told to work even harder before we can reach the threshold for restrictions to be lifted,” Lam said in Beijing on Friday.

Since September, political commentators in Hong Kong have been discussing whether it’s time for Lam to step down, pointing to the fact that anti-government protests have been suppressed by the police force’s enforcement of the epidemic rules, the Public Order Ordinance and the national security law.

Lam Hang-chi, a columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal, named Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd’s chief executive Charles Li as a suitable candidate for Hong Kong’s top post. Some media reports said Norman Chan, former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Paul Chan, the incumbent financial secretary, were interested in running in the chief executive election. Other sources said the next chief executive could be a party member.

Shih Wing-ching, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong businessman and newspaper publisher, said Beijing would favor political ability over financial knowledge when choosing the next chief executive. Shih said the next Hong Kong leader must be able to meet Beijing’s demands, especially when the political tensions between China and the United States are rising.

Jasper Tsang, former president of the Legislative Council, said last month that it was not too early to talk about the next chief executive candidates as the 1,200-strong Election Committee would be elected in late 2021. Tsang said it was possible that Beijing would launch a system to screen candidates in advance of nomination.

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