Henry Ho: Zheng’s appointment turns a new page for Hong Kong

Henry Ho: Resumption of quarantine-free travel boosts HK’s integration into nation
本智庫參加《跨越 2030 年的鐵路及主要幹道策略性研究》專場諮詢會議

Zheng Yanxiong, former director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (OSNS), is set to drive Hong Kong forward after taking the reins at the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR last week.

Having succeeded Luo Huining, Zheng empathetically expressed his commitment to steer the city toward prosperity and enhance communications between the HKSAR and the Chinese mainland. He also vowed to do his best to understand Hong Kong, to love and serve the city’s utmost interests, and to unswervingly uphold the “one country, two systems” principle.

The appointment of Zheng has underlined the central government’s strong determination to counter foreign interference and safeguard national security. Zheng was appointed director of OSNS in 2020 after Hong Kong was marred by violent anti-government protests. With the promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL), the OSNS represents the new and fourth institutional setup of the central government in Hong Kong.

History must not be forgotten, in particular those tumultuous moments during the social unrest in 2019. Luo took the helm of the Liaison Office in January 2020, barely a month after the end of the riots and several months before the promulgation of the NSL. At that time, Hong Kong was grappling with the double whammy of violent riots and the COVID-19 pandemic. One should never forget the anti-China forces calling for complete border closure with the mainland, even though most infected cases, if not all, arrived from overseas in the spring of 2020. And one should never forget that local public hospitals were plagued by a severe staffing crunch after some medical doctors and nurses staged strikes in an irresponsible manner. That remains a disgraceful episode in Hong Kong’s anti-pandemic battle. Political chaos, signified by filibustering and clashes in the Legislative Council, were a common phenomenon before the NSL took effect.

With the guidance and support of the Liaison Office under the leadership of Luo, Hong Kong embarked on a new journey from chaos to order. The promulgation of the NSL, the overhaul of the city’s electoral system, the strong support of the central government for the HKSAR in its anti-COVID-19 battle — all of these reflect the central government’s heartwarming care for all Hong Kong people.

As China’s only international metropolis and global financial hub, Hong Kong has been at the geopolitical forefront over the past three years while a China-bashing campaign has raged, featuring trade and tech wars as well as slanders over human rights and the NSL. It is still impressive that Luo reacted mockingly when his own name appeared on a United States’ sanctions list, saying that such a sanction was in vain as he does not have any assets abroad. With external forces continuing to interfere in China’s internal affairs and pose threats to the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, the HKSAR will inevitably remain a target. This is evidenced by the political machinations in Britain of the so-called “international legal team” of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. Therefore, a new Liaison Office director with a strong background in safeguarding national security will help Hong Kong weather the anticipated storms ahead.

Zheng was born in Shantou city, Guangdong and previously worked in the Guangdong provincial government; he speaks Cantonese and knows Hong Kong well. His down-to-earth approach was clearly demonstrated on his first day at work at the Liaison Office. He has videoed a Lunar New Year speech addressing Hong Kong residents which included lively music and footage of people from all walks of life. His emphasis on strengthening the impetus of Hong Kong’s economic growth highlighted the priority of Hong Kong’s development as well as the hopes of President Xi Jinping for Hong Kong. Zheng’s remarks about “being a person who understands, loves and serves the city” should also be seen to apply to all his colleagues, who have been taking on the important role of liaising with and uniting the people of Hong Kong from all sectors and all strata.

In his speech, Zheng pointed out that 2022 marked a milestone year in the practice of “one country, two systems”, with Hong Kong now progressing “from order to prosperity”. Zheng also expressed his eagerness to see Hong Kong further unleash the driving force to prosperity. In this regard, he suggested a three-point approach for Hong Kong — grasp the tremendous opportunities arising from Chinese-style modernization; proactively engage in international exchanges; and stay committed to working hard and building strong synergy through a united effort.

Zheng’s suggestion offers helpful ideas on how Hong Kong should proceed with its future development. In this regard, Hong Kong needs to accelerate its integration into the overall national development, garnering a stream of development momentum from the mainland. As Zheng pointed out, the international community, by and large, holds a positive outlook on and expectations for China, and the mainland’s vast hinterland, consumer market and inexhaustible innovation power have provided a giant platform for Hong Kong residents to pursue their dreams. It is imperative for Hong Kong to strengthen its competitiveness by deepening cooperation with the mainland, especially the mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In this way, Hong Kong can bolster its position and role in the nation’s economic development and opening-up.

Being widely connected to the world, Hong Kong should also engage in international exchanges more proactively and give full play to the advantages of the “one country, two systems” principle. As Zheng highlighted in his speech, aside from enjoying the mainland’s strong backing, Hong Kong has a free, open and well-regulated business environment, a common law system, and a well-connected global network. To strengthen Hong Kong’s ties with the international community, it is crucial for the city to boost its competitiveness as “eight centers”, as designated by the central government in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), including its prominent roles as a global financial center, an international innovation and technology center, and an arts and cultural exchanges hub between China and the rest of the world.

Above all, Zheng emphasized the significance of a firmer social foundation for the implementation of the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” and “a stronger consensus on the need for stability and development”. Compared with the first two points, which highlight economic development, the third point is more critical as it focuses on the will to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests. It is not hard to understand why Zheng has highlighted this point since Hong Kong can no longer afford a reoccurrence of the 2019 social unrest. External forces’ attempts to disrupt China’s development via meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs have never ceased. It is of the utmost importance for all residents to uphold the constitutional order of Hong Kong and treasure the hard-won social order. The last point is a wish, but also a warning to those who still seek to subvert the nation.

Looking ahead, with the implementation of the NSL and the revamped electoral system, it is the right time for Hong Kong to fulfill President Xi’s expectations for the HKSAR government and various sectors of society — a mission that will be achieved much more easily with a Liaison Office head who knows Hong Kong well.

The author is a member of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and founder and chairman of One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.