Xi worried over Covid impact on HK

Top News | Michael Shum and Wallis Wang 28 Jan 2021

President Xi Jinping says Hong Kong as a highly open international city suffered "a rather large influence" from the Covid-19 pandemic, adding he is "very concerned and worried."

While endorsing the work of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Xi said the central government would take measures to support Hong Kong in fighting the pandemic.

It was Lam' first online duty visit to state leaders.

Xi said the fourth wave of the epidemic in the SAR has threatened citizens' lives and health, and brought disruptions to their daily operations.

"I'm very concerned and worried. The central government will keep taking all necessary measures to fully support Hong Kong in fighting the pandemic," he said.

"I would also like to extend my sincere condolences to all Hongkongers after they have been hugely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak."

Lam and Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng yesterday delivered their duty reports to Xi and Premier Li Keqiang via video conference, replacing their annual visit to Beijing that has been delayed from last month.

Xi also complimented Lam for "having taken a firm stand" in national security issues and her efforts in fighting the pandemic, saying she has stopped the riots in Hong Kong and put the city back on track. "The central government fully recognizes your performance as well as the SAR government discharging its duties responsibly," he said. "You have led the SAR government to resolutely implement the national security law and stopped the riots in Hong Kong in accordance with the law.

"On issues concerning national security, you have taken a firm stand and took the responsibility, demonstrating your love for the country and strong sense of responsibility for Hong Kong."

Li said 2020 was a challenging year for Hong Kong as the city "faced complex issues both internally and externally."

"Hope the SAR government will continue to keep a tight hold on the epidemic, actively respond to citizens' needs and work extra hard to improve livelihood to showcase Hong Kong's unique characteristics and play a special role in the nation's development plan," he said.

In response, Lam, accompanied by the director of the Central Government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, and Chief Executive's Office director Eric Chan Kwok-ki, expressed her gratitude for the central government's caring and support.

She said she will lead the SAR government to put their best foot forward and work even harder to overcome obstacles.

"In the year to come, the SAR government will keep up the effort to fight the pandemic, revive the economy, improve livelihood and connect with the country's development strategy," Lam said.

"We will also strengthen Hong Kong's position as a financial, trading and logistic hub and strive to become a international innovation and technology hub."

China watcher and political commentator Bruce Lui Ping-kuen told The Standard that it is rare for a central government leader to express his worries in such an obvious way.

"Xi's words not only showed that he worried about Hong Kong's pandemic, but also implied his lack of confidence in the SAR government," Lui said.

"Beijing may become more proactive in assisting Hong Kong and would offer policy advice as well as supplies in various aspects, including large-scale tests and vaccines," he added.

He also said the meeting could have been held online last month but Beijing had given the SAR a chance to see if the pandemic can be controlled this month.

However, the situation did not improve and the meeting had to be held online before Lunar New Year.

The meeting yesterday came a little over a month after sources said Lam's duty visit to Beijing scheduled on December 10 to 13 was postponed as Beijing ordered her to stay to take the helm across different departments in controlling the Covid-19 outbreak.

This would be the first time since the handover in 1997 that a Hong Kong chief executive did not pay a duty visit to Beijing in December, aimed at reporting on the latest social, economic and political situation to state leaders.

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