Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Leung Chun-ying, also former chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), speaks in an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Hong Kong, south China, Oct. 8, 2020. (Xinhua/Wang Shen)
HONG KONG, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) — Hong Kong must avoid structural damage to its economy, and the first step toward recovery is to bring the COVID-19 epidemic under control, Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Leung Chun-ying told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
Amid fears of a probable new wave of COVID-19 in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Leung, also former chief executive of the HKSAR, said containing COVID-19 was a pressing task that must be solved, “otherwise Hong Kong’s economy would suffer some structural damage in the medium to long term.”
Prolonged social disturbances have battered Hong Kong’s economy since June 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest statistics show that Hong Kong’s GDP decreased by 9 percent in the second quarter of this year from a year earlier, while the unemployment rate remained high at 6.1 percent during the June-August period.
Despite the HKSAR government announcing that the third wave of the virus was under control in late September, newly-confirmed cases with unknown transmission sources have emerged over the past two weeks.
In response, virus prevention measures have been stepped up, including investigation of confirmed cases, increased testing and calls for related industries to follow infection control guidelines.
Leung said he believed that the HKSAR government and the whole society, with 7.5 million Hong Kong residents, should be mobilized toward the same goal.
“If the first step is not achieved, the following steps (to recover the economy) will be impossible,” he said.
Avoiding structural damage to economy, Leung admitted, is a grave task. However, “dual circulation” offers a way out of Hong Kong’s economic doldrums. This development pattern, floated by China’s top leadership in May, underscores that domestic and foreign markets complement and reinforce each another, and the domestic market is the mainstay.
He said the mainland is Hong Kong’s biggest partner in almost every aspect, but last year’s social unrest had vastly reduced the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong. The epidemic has only made matters worse, by almost severing regular personnel exchanges between Hong Kong and the mainland.
During this year’s Golden Week holiday, which started on Oct. 1, the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong plunged to no more than 1,000.
“Once Hong Kong fully controls the epidemic and realizes regular exchanges with the mainland, half of its economic activities can be resumed. The other half, however, will depend on epidemic management in foreign countries,” Leung said.
Regarding social stability, Leung said Hong Kong has gradually returned to peace and tranquility thanks to the national security law in Hong Kong. “The deterrence (of the law) was immediately felt.”
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on June 30 this year.
The law, which followed prolonged social disturbances, targets crimes that seriously endanger national security, namely secession, subversion, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.
Judging from the past 100 days, Hong Kong’s national security threat has been initially contained, he said, adding that there was still a way to go in explaining the law to the public.
“We can compare the content and purposes of the national security law in Hong Kong with the similar laws in other regions and compare the national security needs of today’s Hong Kong with the similar laws and practices in Hong Kong under the British colonial rule,” Leung said.
As Hong Kong residents know more about Hong Kong’s history and the present situation, and better recognize the changes undergone by China and the world, they will better understand and support the national security law, he added.
Regarding teachers who only have a partial understanding of freedom of speech and academic freedom in school, he said that such freedoms have a bottom line and must be bound by law.
“Hong Kong is indeed a very liberal place but promoting ideas such as separatism to children in school is by no means allowed in any country,” he said.
Responding to widespread calls for judicial reform in Hong Kong, Leung said an objective, calm and comprehensive assessment of the judiciary’s problems must be made before discussing reform.
Leung said Hong Kong’s judicial system was once operated by the British behind closed doors. Some Hong Kong judges now lack a proper understanding of the dire international environment and the complexity of national security, he said.
Every Hong Kong resident, including judges, need adapt to the evolving situation and stay current as Hong Kong’s national security issues have become increasingly prominent in recent years, he said.
Looking ahead, Leung said HKSAR’s long-term prosperity relies on deeper integration with the overall national development strategies.
“I still believe that Hong Kong is the most effective ‘super bridge’ between the country and the world. It is not only a portal but also a platform.”
He said this role of “super bridge” will be even more effective under “dual circulation” if Hong Kong fully integrates the needs of the country with the strengths of itself.
In its latest five-year plan, the central government proposed support for Hong Kong to consolidate and enhance its position as an international financial, trade and shipping center, Leung said. “To achieve the goal, Hong Kong needs to do more and better, and most importantly, seizing the emerging opportunities from the country’s development.”
“As long as we overcome the short-term difficulties, I remain confident in Hong Kong’s future,” Leung said.