Li stamps on 'independence for HK' notion

Top News | Amy Nip and Phoenix Un 6 Mar 2017

The idea of independence for Hong Kong was dismissed out of hand by Li Keqiang as he drummed up a plan to develop a "big bay area" covering Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.

Addressing the National People's Congress annual plenary session that opened in Beijing yesterday, the premier mentioned the topic of Hong Kong independence for the first time in his work report.

He reiterated that the principles of Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy would be upheld to ensure that the "one country, two systems" principle "would not be bent or distorted" in either Hong Kong or Macau - the same way that President Xi Jinping presented the situation earlier.

The central government, Li went on, would support the SAR governments in Hong Kong and Macau to rule according to law, to improve people's livelihood, develop economically and foster harmony with "no way out for 'Hong Kong independence.'"

Cooperation between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau will be promoted, he said, and the regions will work on a plan to develop the "Dawan," which translates as "Big Bay" area.

It is expected to be a logistics hub in the coastal area covering Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, according to an agreement signed between Macau and Shenzhen in 2015.

Right after his references to Hong Kong, Li went on about his strong opposition to Taiwanese independence.

The One China principle and the 1992 consensus - that there is only one China, with each side across the strait free to interpret what that means - must be upheld, he said.

Huang Shouhong, director of the State Council Research Office who helped craft the premier's work report, said Li's comments on independence "were not unfounded." Incidents over the past year showed such advocacy existed in Hong Kong, he said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said as long as people remain alert independence would not be a reality.

But even its advocacy would damage Hong Kong's and national interests, he said.

The Dawan area cooperative plan is "realistic" and "worth looking into," Leung added, adding that while everyone around the world wants to ride on China's development Hong Kong has already been given "a seat on the train" and should treasure the opportunity.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee under the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said Li's comments were in response to how some Hongkongers pushed independence and self-determination.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, an NPC Standing Committee member, said Li targeted the general public in Hong Kong instead of independence advocates.

The advocates will not change their minds, she said, but the public needs constant reminders that independence is "poison."

Ip Kwok-him, another Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, said it was how politicians attempted to promote Hong Kong independence during the Legislative Council election and then in the chamber that caught the attention of Beijing.

He was referring to Sixtus Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, who were disqualified from their seats following the oath-taking controversy.

Commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Beijing has determined that independence advocacy is present in Hong Kong and there is a chance of it spreading. On that, the fact Li put the Hong Kong issue before Taiwan reflects a Beijing worry that independence advocates in the two places could converge.

The three candidates for SAR chief executive also offered views on the premier's address.

Woo Kwok-hing said he did not take Li's words to be a form of pressure on the next CE to put a national security law on the SAR's books.

John Tsang Chun-wah declared independence to be a false conception and Hongkongers would not support it. And Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor remarked that as an inalienable part of China Hong Kong's seven million citizens were guaranteed security.

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