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China adds finance-economy and social affairs bureaus to top Hong Kong-Macau body amid Beijing’s administrative upgrade

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Beijing’s top Hong Kong and Macau affairs body will add two new bureaus to coordinate economic, financial and social affairs in its bid to improve development and to gather better on-the-ground feedback from its two special administrative regions, according to sources.

The new additions are part of a major upgrade to Beijing’s office overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs under the State Council, China’s cabinet.
The changes that were announced in March include elevating it to a higher-level body that reports directly to the ruling Communist Party’s central leadership. The reorganisation is expected to be completed this year.

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One source said the establishment of an additional economic and finance bureau, one of the two new bodies, showed Beijing’s determination to better coordinate the economic development and mitigate potential financial risks between the two special administrative regions and the mainland, and in particular the Greater Bay Area.

“The Hong Kong and Macau governments will continue to make their own economic decisions on what is best for their economy going forward under the one country, two systems arrangement. What the new economic and finance bureau will do is to help coordination and economic integration with the Greater Bay Area, so that various cities in the [area] can have better synergies while keeping their own focus and strength,” he said.

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A second source said the other new addition, the new social work bureau, would serve as Beijing’s listening post and “bridge builder” between the central government and the people of Hong Kong and Macau.

“It will gather ground feedback and suggestions from the two special administrative regions for Beijing’s leaders,” the second source said.

Besides introducing the economy and finance bureau and social work bureau, the new Central Hong Kong and Macau Works Office (CHKMWO) would absorb all nine existing departments in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) of the State Council and reorganise them into new bureaus, said two sources familiar with the situation.
In 2021, the HKMAO added legal and security affairs departments to its line-up as part of Beijing’s response to the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. The legal affairs department is in charge of promoting and researching legal issues involving the Basic Law in Hong Kong and Macau, and handles the legal institutions of the two cities. The security affairs department coordinates national security issues in Hong Kong and Macau.

Other departments in HKMAO included secretary and administration; political research; personnel; publicity, which releases official news related to Hong Kong and Macau and handles Hong Kong and Macau media and reporters on the mainland; general affairs, which supervises the implementation of important Hong Kong and Macau policies and addresses problems that arise during implementation; liaison, which handles the central government’s official communications with the two SAR governments and visits by Beijing officials; and the exchange department, which handles collaborative projects between the mainland and the two SARs.

Dr Henry Ho Kin-chung, founder and chairman of local think tank One Country Two Systems Youth Forum, said he welcomed the restructuring of the top Hong Kong Macau policy office because it “reflects a problem-oriented approach by focusing on resolving key challenges of the special administrative region, including economic development, youth and various social issues”.

He said it represented “significant steps forward” in implementing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s policies as laid out in his speech at the HKSAR 25th anniversary last year.

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“It is expected that with the emphasis on coordination, policy research and implementation, the establishment of the [CHKMWO] will provide impetus to [Hong Kong’s] further economic growth and development amid a turbulent international environment,” Ho said.

Kenny Cheng King-chuen, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the additional structure in the new Central Hong Kong and Macau Works Office would aid feedback and help Beijing listen to Hong Kong better.

He said the restructure made it clear Beijing had four focuses in relation to Hong Kong and Macau: upholding national security; strengthening economic and financial links; addressing social and livelihood problems and making Beijing’s directions better understood in Hong Kong and Macau.

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“With the new structure, we will see more actions on these fronts in coming months,” he said.

Cheng said that while continuing to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy the new arrangement would make it easier for the Central Hong Kong and Macau Works Office to help Hong Kong get more support from Beijing when pushing for various policy initiatives because it could rally support from other relevant central government agencies.

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