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Zhang Dejiang heads Macau and HK affairs: Macau-Guangdong integration set to accelerate

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image Zhang Dejiang (center front)

Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Chinese parliament (National People’s Congress or NPC) and member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has taken the helm of the central government’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs after the major reshuffle of the Chinese leadership last month. Experts in Macau-
mainland relations believe the former Guangdong provincial head, who gave the green light to the Hengqin project, will accelerate the cooperation between Macau and Guangdong and realize the economic integration of the Pearl River Delta cities, as well as emphasize the importance of the “one-country-two-systems” in Hong Kong and Macau, with a view on Taiwan.    
Zhang was the Communist Party boss of Guangdong province, which neighbors Macau, from 2002 to 2007, and during this period he was credited for pushing the economic cooperation and integration of major cities in the Pearl River Delta region, including Macau, Hong Kong, and mainland cities such as Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Guangdong etc. He was also one of the major proponents and the final decision-maker on the Hengqin New Development Zone, which is intended as a virtual extension of Macau’s territory. It will allow the city to develop innovative industries, and build the vast new campus of the University of Macau to feed the region’s tremendous need for professional human resources.
After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC) that ended in March, Zhang was elected into the supreme decision-
making body, the CPC Central Committee, whose seven members have the final say in the country’s decisons. Later on, Zhang also took over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s post as the head of the Central Working Group for Coordination on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, which is the central government’s decision-making body concerning Macau and Hong Kong affairs. He personally chaired the meeting of the Macau NPC deputies’ conference held in Beijing on the sidelines of the 18th NCCPC meeting in March. The chair of this meeting is generally the person who heads the Hong Kong and Macau affairs in the central government.
In response to the Times’ enquiry about the implications of Zhang taking charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, the office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Macau said that they are only responsible for external affairs and referred the Times to the Central Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s top representative office in Macau. But their spokesperson also declined to comment on the issue, saying it’s not within their position or duty to do so.

Zhang is a good, if not the best, choice - Ieong Wan Chong

However, local analysts said Zhang’s background signals the central authority’s determination to push ahead with its established policies in Hong Kong and Macau affairs. The academic field believe Macau and Guangdong, as well as Hong Kong, will integrate faster than before under the new leadership in Beijing.
“I have no doubt that the cooperation and integration [between Macau and neighboring regions] will accelerate,” said Professor Ieong Wan Chong, who heads the One Country Two Systems Research Center of the Macau Polytechnic Institute. He told the Times that this prediction is manifested in the newly implemented extension of operating hours at the border crossing between Guangdong and Macau, and that this is just the beginning of a series of measures and policies heading in the same direction.
“Zhang is a good, if not the best, choice [for heading Hong Kong and Macau affairs] because he is relatively younger, in the standard of Chinese politics, and more importantly, he has extensive experience in governing Guangdong, which has been the pioneer in economic and other fields of cooperation with Hong Kong and Macau.” The scholar believed Hengqin and Qianhai are the core of the new leadership’s push for regional integration in Pearl River Delta.
“For Macau’s part, we can have much expectation in the Henqgin region, as Zhang is one of the main engineers behind this project. The progress of the development in Hengqin was not that impressive in the past few years, and Zhang will be the one to realize a speedy implementation of this massive project which is very important to Macau’s economic diversification. For Hong Kong, Qianhai’s development is likely to undergo a similar spur by Zhang.”
The scholar said while Beijing’s decisions on Hong Kong and Macau affairs are an extension of the established policy originated from previous leaderships, the new leadership does have reason to speed up integration.
“Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs policy is a comprehensive strategy reaching beyond Hong Kong and Macau. The central government is eager to create a more significant effect from the ‘one-country-two-system’ principle, which has proved to be a success, especially on Macau’s side, but Beijing needs the effect to be noticeable farther, preferably on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. There’re still many uncertainties in cross-strait relations. To clear the uncertainties, Hong Kong and Macau will play an important role.” 
But according to Hong Kong media, Zhang also has a negative record when it comes to Hong Kong and Macau affairs, and that is his attempted cover up of the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in Guangdong in late 2002. It was not brought into the international spotlight until early 2003 when the virus spread to Hong Kong and resulted in major outbreak in the populous city. Guangzhou’s outspoken newspaper, the Southern Metropolis Daily, became the target of a political crackdown for exposing the outbreak of the fatal epidemic that caused widespread panic in southern Guangdong.

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