At a teahouse beside Hangzhou’s scenic West Lake, Beijing official Huang Liuquan sat down to dim sum with a group of Hong Kong reporters, lawmakers and officials.
It was a rare occasion for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office’s deputy director – Beijing’s Number 2 official in the city – to sit in a relaxed atmosphere for 45 minutes, sharing his views on a variety of issues.
Present were 22 Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers and officials who were in a Legislative Council delegation on a four-day visit to Shanghai and Hangzhou from April 21 to 24. Huang spent two full days with the group.
Missing from the informal gathering were seven pan-democrat lawmakers who pulled out two weeks before the visit, after they could not get an assurance that they would get to meet Beijing officials to express their opposition to Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill.
“If the pan-democrats did not boycott the trip but dared to join us, they could have sat down here and raised their views directly with Huang,” a Hong Kong government official said after the dim sum gathering on April 23. “They just don’t have the guts.”
The pan-democrats retorted that they had asked long before the trip if Beijing officials would meet them, but could not get clear answers. “The mysterious arrangements show Beijing’s insincerity in communication,” said lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, one of those who dropped out.
If the pan-democrats did not boycott the trip, they could have sat down here raising their views directly with Huang. They just don’t have guts
Hong Kong government official
Also, the group said the political atmosphere had soured over the government’s proposal to amend extradition laws, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions Hong Kong does not have an agreement with, including mainland China, Macau and Taiwan.
The pan-democrat camp opposes the amendment, saying it may result in extradition to places where fugitives will not be guaranteed a fair trial, such as the mainland.
Wong, from the Democratic Party, said the group had asked the government to arrange meetings with Beijing officials in Shanghai so they could voice their concerns over the bill. “We told them if some officials would show up and listen, the trip would be more meaningful,” she said this week.
“We want to understand national developments and, at the same time, we want Beijing to understand Hong Kong.”
However, they heard nothing, she said.
Pan-democrat lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, a representative from the education sector, said the government could have sent a clearer signal if Beijing was sincere in wanting to have a discussion during the trip.
He stressed it was the timing that made them withdraw, as they considered the extradition bill a critical issue that threatened the city’s freedoms. Last Sunday, thousands of people took part in a street protest against the bill in Hong Kong.
Wong said that in hindsight, talking to Beijing officials probably would not have made a difference, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was pressing ahead with the bill despite last weekend’s protest.
Led by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, the delegation visited Fudan University, the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Alibaba Group, parent company of the Post, and held meetings with Shanghai’s mayor and officials as well as Zhejiang provincial party secretary Che Jun.
Government sources said the details of the programme could only be confirmed with Beijing officials at the last minute, as was the usual practice.
Leung said he only learned Huang would join the group three days before the trip, while others in the delegation said they did not know until the official appeared on the second day of the visit.
Huang and the delegation did not discuss the extradition bill.
The government source said Beijing could not be expected to accept preconditions set by the pan-democrats, as that would amount to “hijacking the programme”.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who was in the delegation, said at the end of the trip: “Beijing and mainland officials all welcome more exchanges and communication, but it is inappropriate to make political gestures and set preconditions.”
Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University’s Law School in Beijing, said: “Both sides want to build a communication platform, but both act with caution as there is no trust between them.”
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of semi-official think tank The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau, said the pan-democrats were issue-driven so it was almost impossible for Beijing or the Hong Kong government to establish a stable relationship with them.
“Once there are controversial issues, the pan-democrats, even the moderate ones, will get back to a confrontational style as their supporter base is getting narrow,” Lau said.
Looking ahead, a Hong Kong delegation is expected to be invited to a Beijing military parade on National Day, October 1, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Going by past practice, only a handful of pan-democrats, if any, will be invited.
A government source said it was for Beijing, not Hong Kong, to draw up the guest list, as such a high-level parade allowed for “zero security risk” as far as the central government was concerned.
Wong was quick to make clear her party had no interest in attending, whereas Ip said he was open to going but would want to know the arrangements.
Last year, Wong and Ip were among nine pan-democrats who joined 23 pro-establishment lawmakers to visit five mainland cities to learn more about Beijing’s “Greater Bay Area” plan to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities to create a hi-tech hub to rival Silicon Valley. That was the largest group of legislators to visit the mainland since 2014.
Pan-democrats considered hostile to Beijing were only recently able to get a home return permit, a document issued by mainland authorities to Hong Kong permanent residents for cross-border travel.
This article ‘Gutless’ pan-democrats and ‘insincere’ officials – missed opportunity to meet Beijing’s No 2 man in Hong Kong highlights lasting divide between both sides first appeared on South China Morning Post