China’s new premier Li Qiang has said Hong Kong is poised for “brighter days ahead” thanks to Beijing’s support, with challenges faced by the city over the past years only “temporary.”

Li Qiang
China’s Premier Li Qiang speaks during a press conference after the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2023. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP.

Li was speaking at a press conference following the conclusion of the National People’s Congress (NPC) meetings on Monday. The meetings are part of China’s Two Sessions, an annual political assembly that sees gatherings of the NPC and Beijing’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“Since the Handover [of Hong Kong to China], Hong Kong’s status as an international finance centre, international trade centre and international aviation centre… has become stronger,” Li said on Monday morning.

“Yes, Hong Kong and Macau have… encountered some challenges over the past few years, but I believe these are only temporary challenges.”

With the “strong support of the motherland” and the One Country, Two Systems framework, Li said, Hong Kong and Macau would witness “brighter days ahead.”

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

Monday marked the end of the Two Sessions, which saw Chinese leader Xi Jinping handed a historic third presidential term and Li – known for overseeing Shanghai’s strict Covid-19 lockdown – appointed premier, making him the second-highest ranking official in China.

Chief Executive John Lee travelled to Beijing on Sunday for the closing ceremony of the Two Sessions.

He “extended his warmest congratulations” to Xi on his “unanimous election” as the country’s leader, according to a government press release published on Monday, and said Hong Kong would “leverage its strengths to meet the needs of the country.”

John Lee at the Two Sessions
Hong Kong leader John Lee at the Two Sessions meeting in Beijing in March, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

In a 15-minute closing ceremony speech on Monday, Xi called for “realizing national rejuvenation” and the practice of “true multilateralism.”

He added that the “building of a strong nation is inseparable from Hong Kong and Macau’s long-term prosperity and stability.”

Security a ‘bedrock’ of development

Also present at the Two Sessions were Hong Kong’s deputies to the NPC, China’s top lawmaking body.

In a virtual press conference on Monday, the deputies recapped Xi’s speech and said it had given “encouragement” and “confidence” to Hong Kong people.

Lawmaker Brave Chan said that the deputies had cast their votes in several “resolutions” and “agendas” over the days-long Two Sessions, and saw the appointments of leading officials to their posts.

China Great Hall
The Great Hall in Beijing, China. File photo: Eric Jiang, via Flickr.

“Besides being emotional and happy, we are also starting to feel a little more at ease,” Chan said.

Xi’s words, Chan added, showed the leader was “constantly thinking about Hong Kong.”

“Whenever President Xi gives an important speech, I believe that all Hong Kong people are most concerned with how much Hong Kong is mentioned,” Chan said. Xi spoke extensively about Hong Kong during his speech on July 1, when he came to the city to mark the 25th anniversary of its return to China, and during the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress meeting, Chan added.

His closing ceremony speech was “not long,” Chan said. “But there was still quite a bit on Hong Kong.”

Ma Fung-kwok
Ma Fung-kwok. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Ma Fung-kwok, leader of the delegation and a lawmaker, said Xi “pointed out the relationship between stability and development.”

“[Xi] said security is the bedrock of development, and stability is a prerequisite for [prosperity],” he said.

Also among the deputies were Starry Lee, the chairperson of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong who was elected to the NPC’s Standing Committee on Saturday. The committee is a high-level body comprising Beijing’s political heavyweights.

Quoting Xi’s words on the importance of China being “self-reliant” in science and technology, Lee said she hoped Hong Kong’s industries could “grasp the country’s high-quality development opportunities to boost Hong Kong’s economy and improve livelihoods.”

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.