Xi Trip to Hong Kong’s Doorstep Shows China Plan to Unify Region

President Xi Jinping is set to visit Shenzhen this week to shore up plans to make southern China a global technology hub, prompting Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to delay an annual economic policy address.

Xi is scheduled to deliver an address Wednesday and meet the leaders of Hong Kong and Macau, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday. The trip is intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the special economic zone that transformed Shenzhen from a sleepy fishing village to a bustling metropolis of more than 13 million people and home to multinational companies including Huawei Technologies Co. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Lam canceled the policy speech scheduled for Wednesday to attend the festivities, and said in a briefing Monday that she now aimed to deliver it by late November after traveling to Beijing to brief Communist Party officials on her plans. She denied that she was “waiting for directions” from Beijing before giving the speech, saying instead that the central government wants to “facilitate those policy measures” to help the economy.

“This is a very good opportunity that no Chief Executive would forgo,” Lam said.

Lam’s decision shows just how much policy makers in Beijing are calling the shots in Hong Kong. Xi’s government earlier this year imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong that gave Beijing the power to intervene in the legal system for the first time, prompting the U.S. to sanction officials for undermining the territory’s autonomy promised when Britain handed it over to China in 1997.

Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong saw their biggest gain since early July on optimism that Xi could unveil plans to further open the nation’s economy to foreign investment, with the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index climbing 2.7% at the close.

The gauge had underperformed its mainland peers this year, falling 12% versus an 18% rally for the CSI 300 Index of key stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Xiaomi Corp. rose 8.4% to lead gains on the measure of offshore China stocks on Monday, while China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. and China Telecom Corp. rose at least 5.5%.

The Communist Party intends to build Shenzhen, a stone’s throw from Hong Kong across the mainland border, into a “socialist pilot zone with Chinese characteristics” over the next five years, Xinhua reported Sunday, publishing an outline of the plan.

Next Level

China will push forward cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to a “higher level” to strengthen the key role in the Greater Bay Area, said Xinhua, without offering more details. Shenzhen will host a trial on the digital yuan and push forward with international cooperation, Xinhua reported.

The Greater Bay Area calls for better integrating Shenzhen, the surrounding province of Guangdong and the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau. The ambitious effort faces new challenges amid trade and security disputes with the U.S., anxiety over the new security law in Hong Kong and travel restrictions prompted by the pandemic.

The reports suggests a prominent role for the Greater Bay Area in China’s next five-year development, which is expected to be approved by lawmakers next year in Beijing. Top party leaders were scheduled to convene on Oct. 26 to discuss an outline for the five-year plan.

Xi’s Shenzhen trip, which had been speculated about by Hong Kong media in the run-up to the anniversary, was reported Sunday by the South China Morning Post.

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