China's Xi Heads South, Prompting Last-Minute Change of Plans in Hong Kong

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china-xijinping-101220.png Chinese Commnist Party general secretary Xi Jinping is shown in a file photo.

Ruling Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping will head south to Shenzhen this week, in a nod to the economic reforms launched during a similar trip by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping nearly three decades earlier.

Xi will deliver a speech in Shenzhen on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the establishment of China’s first special economic zone in the southern city 40 years ago, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam made the unprecedented announcement that her annual policy address would be postponed after it clashed with Xi's speech, which she said would be attending instead.

"Upon invitation, I’m leading a Hong Kong government delegation to participate or to attend the celebration event on Oct. 14," Lam told reporters in Hong Kong on Monday.

"My only purpose of going to Shenzhen is ... the possibility of positive things and policies coming out from my discussions with the Central People’s Government, the various ministries and commissions," Lam said.

"I have no scheduled meeting with President Xi during his visit to Shenzhen."

The announcement of Xi's trip followed plans by Beijing to ease land use restrictions for Shenzhen in a bid to boost foreign investment in the technology sector, as well as a boost to the energy and telecoms sectors.

Shenzhen, a close neighbor to the former British colony of Hong Kong, was once used by Deng as a testing ground for reforms that spurred 40 years of breakneck economic growth in China.

Further integration sought

Xi’s speech is likely to touch on further integration of the Greater Bay Area, a region that includes Hong Kong, Macao, and nine cities in China’s Guangdong province, including Shenzhen.

Greater Bay Area integration has also been touted by Chinese officials and pro-China politicians as a way of "re-educating" Hongkongers to feel a greater sense of patriotism and loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party following a turbulent year of anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University said Lam appeared to have been caught off guard by the sudden "invitation," however.

"An obedient chief executive like her ... can't afford to be out of touch with central government policy, so she has to be around when they are being developed," Lui said.

"This was poorly thought through and doesn't make Lam look good at all."

Current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said the last-minute postponement showed the Hong Kong government can't even plan its own schedule.

"They made it clear at the fourth plenum [of the Chinese Communist Party central committee] that they are going to take control of all aspects of Hong Kong's governance," Liu said.

"Hong Kong has been made to toe the line on a lot of issues, to the extent that they can't even make their own arrangements any more," he said. "The Hong Kong government is on the back foot in a lot of areas."

"There are many things it can no longer decide by itself."

A symbolic move

Chinese political commentator Wu Qiang said Xi's Shenzhen visit will pave the way for the fifth plenum later this month.

"This event in Shenzhen is all about the fifth plenum, about resolving the power struggle within the party," Wu said. "It's a symbolic move to send a message of encouragement, given what China is going through right now."

Pan Lu, a former high-school teacher from the eastern city of Suzhou, said Xi's father, revolutionary leader Xi Zhongxun, lived in Shenzhen later in life.

But he didn't expect Xi to announce anything like the kind of reforms that were launched by Deng in the city.

"There is absolutely no possibility of a return to the Deng era of reforms and opening up, because we know from the past eight years that Xi is a very authoritarian leader, who keeps taking the country left," Pan said.

Hebei-based historian Zhao Jianguo agreed that Xi's visit would be largely symbolic.

"He has to commemorate the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which was a major event in the history of the Chinese Communist Party," Zhao said.

"But I think further reform and opening up almost certainly won't be [in the speech]."

Reported by Lu Xi, Lau Siu-fung and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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