Top official’s visit to Hong Kong demonstrates central govt’s position on Article 23 legislation, clears doubts: experts
Published: Feb 22, 2024 10:44 PM
Xia Baolong, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, greets the public when visiting the HKSAR government’s headquarters on February 22, 2024. Photo:

Xia Baolong, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, greets the public when visiting the HKSAR government’s headquarters on February 22, 2024. Photo:

Xia Baolong, the central government’s top official overseeing Hong Kong and Macao affairs, started his seven-day trip to Hong Kong on Thursday, meeting a number of local government officials and learning from the progress that the city has made in its transition from good governance to prosperity. 

The visit comes as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is about to wrap up the public consultation period for the Article 23 legislation in the coming days. Such a visit also demonstrates the central government’s stance on the legislation, refuting criticism from hostile forces, which will be more conducive to dispelling doubts and questions, especially among foreign investors, experts said. 

However, Xia’s visit does not target the Article 23 legislation as a single matter, like some media speculated. Some local officials and experts said that the central government’s official will comprehensively grasp the situation of Hong Kong, especially the effectiveness of the local governance, through first-hand information collection, in order to provide scientific basis for the central government’s formulation of policies toward the city. 

“Xia’s visit to Hong Kong this time is mainly to understand the latest developments in various aspects such as the economic development and regional governance of Hong Kong,” Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki said during a press briefing on Thursday afternoon. 
This is Xia’s second visit to Hong Kong since April in 2023, which is the longest visit ever, lasting seven days, fully reflecting the concern and support of the central government for the city, Chan said. 

After arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, Xia first inspected the central control center of the Hong Kong International Airport, and then went to the HKSAR government’s headquarters to hold discussions with senior officials of the HKSAR government on various aspects including commerce chamber, the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society, according to local media reports. 

According to Chan, Xia and local officials engaged in in-depth exchanges covering various aspects of development, including economic development and regional governance. The atmosphere was quite enthusiastic, fully demonstrating Xia’s concern for and familiarity with Hong Kong affairs. 

The central government’s official also expressed full confidence in Hong Kong’s implementation of high-level security and high-quality development. After the exchange with Xia, the HKSAR government is firm in its belief that it will work together with all sectors of society to effectively safeguard national security, including completing the Article 23 legislation.

As a national leader, Xia will certainly not come solely for a single matter, referring to the Article 23 legislation, Lau Siu-kai, a consultant from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies who is also a senior policy advisor, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

“He is likely to pay attention to Hong Kong’s economic, livelihood, and fiscal difficulties. In addition to listening to the HKSAR government’s reports and response strategies, he is expected to provide opinions and suggestions from the central government to ensure that Hong Kong can still safeguard national security, maintain public order, and promote its development and integration into the overall national development in difficult times,” Lau said. 

The consultation period for the Article 23 legislation will end on February 28, according to the HKSAR government. 

The new law, proposed to be entitled the ‘’Safeguarding National Security Ordinance,’’ aims to comprehensively address national security risks and will play a complementary role to the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

The HKSAR Chief Executive John Lee said at a recent press briefing that the majority of opinions support the legislation, and the legislation process should be pushed forward at full speed.

“Xia’s visit to Hong Kong this time is well-timed, as the consultation work on the Article 23 legislation has progressed smoothly, and his visit to Hong Kong signifies support for the legislative work,” Tam Yiu-chung, former member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee from Hong Kong and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

With the upcoming release of the fiscal budget, he will conduct research on Hong Kong’s economic development, expressing the central government’s concern and care for Hong Kong. 

As the annual national two sessions – National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – scheduled in the coming weeks, this week will help the central government to better understand the situation in Hong Kong when formulating policies, Tam said. 

Xia is also expected to urge the HKSAR government to enhance governance efficiency, actively innovate, better promote Hong Kong’s development, improve livelihoods, and strengthen economic cooperation with the mainland, especially in the Greater Bay Area, according to experts. 

When asked if the issue of expanding the individual visit scheme from the mainland to Hong Kong was discussed at the meeting on Thursday, Chan said that regarding the preferential policies from the central government toward Hong Kong, the HKSAR government has been in contact and discussions with the central government, and an announcement will be made at the appropriate time.

The HKSAR government plans to extend the mainland individual traveler’s scheme to include more Chinese cities in order to boost local tourism, local media the Standard reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

Under the current scheme, mainland residents with permanent household registration in 49 cities – including 21 cities in Guangdong province as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and so on – are eligible to apply to visit Hong Kong in their individual capacity, the media report said.