Hong Kong: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has told an Australian audience it was “speculation” and “absolutely untrue” that Hong Kong would lose its distinct identity as the Chinese Communist Party pushes ahead with an economic plan to link the former British colony with nearby mainland cities.
Lam will travel to Australia to promote the Greater Bay Area, the Chinese government’s plan to create an economic hub linking Hong Kong, Macau and China’s technology centre of Shenzhen, among nine mainland cities.
She will call for Australian companies to invest in the project, which has already seen China build the world’s longest sea bridge to link the islands by road with the mainland.
Tax concessions that would allow professionals living in Hong Kong to work under the same conditions within the Greater Bay Area on the Chinese mainland have been announced.
But the push to create the Greater Bay Area comes as anxiety is rising in Hong Kong among the public and business community that Beijing is eroding the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that gave Hong Kong unique freedoms, including a separate legal system and police force.
Lam said that One Country Two Systems, and Hong Kong taking advantage of commercial opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, were not mutually exclusive.
“Any worry and rumour and speculation that once we cooperate and take a greater part in the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong will lose its unique characteristics, and the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle will be eroded, is absolutely untrue,” she said in a keynote speech to the AustCham annual awards.
Lam said she “will safeguard fiercely” the rule of law in Hong Kong, and said Hong Kong will continue to appoint overseas judges in a system that highlighted the independence of the judiciary. Four of 14 overseas judges in the Hong Kong court system come from Australia.
Her keynote speech to the AustCham dinner also comes after a noisy public debate in Australia last year over whether Hong Kong companies should be regarded as a national security risk on the basis of Hong Kong being subject to Chinese communist party rule.
A bid by a prominent Hong Kong company CK Group to purchase a major gas pipeline was rejected on the grounds it was contrary to national interest for any foreign company to acquire sole ownership of critical gas infrastructure.
Since the decision, CK Group has joined the board of AustCham Hong Kong. Hong Kong has also signed a Free Trade Agreement with Australia, which Lam said she hoped would soon be ratified by the Australian Parliament now the election was over.
AustCham had told Lam’s government that Hong Kong’s advantage lay in upholding One Country, Two Systems and this would be important to the island’s continued success.
Australian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong chairman Andrew MacIntosh said the business community was “optimistic about the promise” of the Greater Bay Area.
The latest flashpoint for concern over Beijing’s reach into Hong Kong has been an extradition bill proposed by Lam’s government.
On Monday 30 foreign consuls held a meeting with Hong Kong politicians where they expressed concern the proposed extradition law would allow suspects to be handed over to mainland Chinese authorities.
Lam said earlier on Tuesday she would meet with foreign envoys to explain the legislation.
The business community in Hong Kong has also expressed its concern.
The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce met with Hong Kong’s security secretary on Monday to ask for more safeguards in the bill, saying the law would have significant and far reaching implications for Hong Kong’s criminal justice system “which is a vital contributing factor to the city’s reputation as an international city”, the peak business body said.
Human rights safeguards should be improved and Chinese provincial governments banned from making extradition requests, the chamber said.
AustCham’s Macintosh said: “The chamber has been watching the issue very closely.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said protests against the extradition law by foreign governments were “clearly an interference in China’s internal affairs”.