Published: 00:34, November 11, 2022 | Updated: 14:48, November 11, 2022
Policy blueprint sets city on pace for long-term prosperity
By Mervyn Cheung

Against the backdrop of the successful 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was offered an “action guide” for its governance in the work report presented by General Secretary Xi Jinping, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu delivered his maiden Policy Address on Oct 19. 

Quite apart from introducing various measures to deal vigorously with the problems relating to the brain drain, public housing, and social welfare, technology and innovation, as well as internal and external connectivity issues, the city’s leader asserted that the city is getting in the lane for normalcy despite the rapidly evolving international environment, the pandemic ravages, and the social turmoil previously.

Nonetheless, Lee marked his policy framework off from those of his predecessors by stressing that the prosperity and stability being enjoyed by the local population should “not be taken for granted”, and the general public must always “stay alert to threats and dangers, adopt bottom-line thinking, and sustain efforts in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests in order to guard vigilantly against the resurgence of threats”. With full gratitude for the central government’s unswerving commitment to the “one country, two systems” framework, Lee agreed that the “action guide” provided by General Secretary Xi Jinping in his work report to the 20th Party Congress bestows upon Hong Kong new concepts, a new vision and strategies for perfecting the arrangements and implementation of “one country, two systems” on which the metropolis’ bright prospects will rely.

While not being incorporated in this year’s legislative agenda to allow more profound research on the legal issues involved, Lee pledged to forge ahead with the preparatory work for the legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law, and for the legislation on regulating online and offline crowdfunding activities, some of which has been judged to be for toppling the government. On this legislative front, Lee was grilled for not including, under the widely promulgated system of assessment by key performance indicators, a specific timetable for the legislation according to Article 23, an important task. In response, Lee maintained his advocacy for the need to build up a strong research foundation for this legislative endeavor, citing as support the concern over the “enemies” that have surfaced since 2003 when the government first introduced the bill to the Legislative Council.

Undoubtedly, there is substantial validity in the chief executive’s view that attempts to legislate according to Article 23 must take into most careful consideration the abortive experience 20 years ago, and ensure that the law so enacted must be able to deal with the most extreme circumstances. This cautious and comprehensive approach to the mandatory enactment does not, however, pre-empt the need for regular reporting to LegCo the progress of the preparation for the legislation that determines the timeline for the actual submission of the legislative proposal for scrutiny by the lawmakers. 

A groundbreaking concept of a “red team” operation in the SAR’s governance is yet another distinct feature in the new Policy Address. The team will play, in the history of the local public administration, the unique “role of critics and opponents to facilitate a thorough review of the effectiveness of policy decisions and execution plans”, in a bid to close loopholes and improve the efficiency and outcomes in the realm of public policies.

Alongside this new public management initiative, Lee is also set to establish a Chief Executive Policy Unit, or CEPU, to enhance the authorities’ capabilities in research and lobbies on long-term and strategic plans. Reporting to the chief executive directly, the CEPU should command “strategic and global perspectives” and keep abreast of the local and public pulse, in the process of conducting penetrating studies and analyses on the Chinese mainland’s developments, as well as international trends. It was also said to put in orbit a “mechanism for regular internal deliberations to assist the government in formulating forward-looking policies”.

With the current administration having firmed up its decision to continue with the mega development plans of the Northern Metropolis and the Kau Yi Chau artificial island, Lee is keen to position the Northern Metropolis as a “new international and technology hub”. To this end, two committees will be set up to oversee the pertinent developments, and a government department will be established to develop the area next year. Rather than let things go in sporadic ways, a steering group will be in place to chart and monitor the city’s integration into the nation’s overall development. In addition, the steering group will draw up strategic plans to integrate the metropolis into the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and strengthen communications and corporations with mainland cities in the GBA.

Embarking on a policy blueprint with top priority in defending national security, sovereignty and development interests of the homeland that are indispensable to the SAR’s future governance and development, Lee has obviously resorted to a proactive, as opposed to the hitherto largely reactive, approach in pushing the city forward in many a significant public domain. Thus, the Policy Address sees the city’s unprecedented strides in global competition for high-end talents and strategic enterprises, high-tech advances, transport infrastructure buildup, public housing provisions, prevention-based health care support, as well as mainland-focused, innovation and skill-enhanced school education and training. These are the vital issues confronted by the SAR government at this critical stage of development, which should not pose insurmountable challenges to the local leadership insofar as the city is judiciously integrated into the motherland’s development under “one country, two systems”.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.