The phrase “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and mention of the city’s “high degree of autonomy” were not included in a work report speech by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as the annual session of the National People’s Congress kicked off in Beijing on Monday.

Li said there has been new progress in work relating to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan over the past five years. However, he did not mention Hong Kong independence, despite a stern warning in last year’s report that the idea “would lead nowhere.”

Li Keqiang
Li Keqiang. Photo: CCTV Screenshot.

“The practice of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has been consistently enriched and developed,” Li said. “The authority of the constitution and the Basic Law has been further highlighted.”

The two key phrases were mentioned by Li in 2017, but were also omitted in 2014.

He said the cooperation between the mainland and the two special administrative regions have been deepened, as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge has been completed, whilst Hong Kong and Macau remained prosperous and stable.

“We must continue to fully and accurately implement the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, strictly follow the constitution and the Basic Law, and fully support the governance of the governments and chief executives of the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions,” Li said.

CPPCC omission 

Last Saturday, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference chair Yu Zhengsheng failed to mention “One Country, Two Systems,” “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and the “high degree of autonomy” in a section about future work plans – unlike in past work reports.

Yu Zhengsheng
Yu Zhengsheng. Photo: CCTV Screenshot.

However, he included a new notion that China would “strengthen the unity and connection with Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas compatriots, mobilise [ethnic] Chinese sons and daughters to work together for the greater national interests and the realisation of the Chinese Dream.”

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The report, Yu’s last before leaving the position, also mentioned the Basic Law interpretation issued after Hong Kong lawmakers’ oath taking controversy. He said he supported CPPCC members to speak out positively about the interpretation.

‘No policy change’

Wang Guangya, former director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Office,  said the omission in Yu’s report did not signal a change in policy.

“The central government and its leaders have stressed that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ will not change. Some words do not have to be mentioned every single time,” he said.

Wang Guangya
Wang Guangya. File

“My feeling is that the country’s development is getting better and better, and the country will attach more importance to ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and to Hong Kong and Macau.”

Cheng Yiu-tong, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, said that the omission of Hong Kong independence did not mean the central government was not on alert over the issue.

“It only means that Hong Kong independence should not exist in Hong Kong, this is very clear,” he said. “My personal view is that [independence advocates] have become low profile, but it does not mean they do not exist.”

He also said the central government had an optimistic view of Hong Kong and focuses on boosting Hong Kong’s economy through the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area and the One Belt One Road Initiative.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.