Date
21 August 2017
Pan-democrats (L) may get a chance to put forth their views to Li Fei (R) and other mainland officials if a proposed meeting materializes next month. Li heads the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the NPC Standing Committee. Photos: HKEJ, AFP
Pan-democrats (L) may get a chance to put forth their views to Li Fei (R) and other mainland officials if a proposed meeting materializes next month. Li heads the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the NPC Standing Committee. Photos: HKEJ, AFP

Is there still room for talks between Beijing and pan-democrats?

As a stalemate continues over the framework for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election, with the government and opposition lawmakers sticking to their respective stands, some pan-democratic legislators are seeking a way out by proposing fresh talks with Beijing.

The legislators hope to persuade central authorities to improve upon the package that was unveiled at the end of August last year. Even a slight adjustment in the candidate nomination process can help the cause of democracy, they reckon.

But what are the chances that Beijing will actually reconsider its position and agree to a more open election arrangement?

The answer, unfortunately, will not be pleasing to the ears of pan-democrats. Most political watchers say it will take a miracle to make Beijing shift from its stance.

There has been much talk this week that some government-friendly pro-democracy lawmakers are seeking a meeting with Beijing officials to discuss the electoral reform package. A meeting could take place in March after the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), according to reports.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Raymond Tam, admitted on Tuesday that he is trying to arrange a meeting between pan-democrat lawmakers and Beijing officials. But he said that nothing is finalized yet. 

It will certainly be good news if Hong Kong lawmakers and Beijing officials manage to sit down and hold a fresh discussion on political reform.

But if Beijing insists that the talks should be within the framework of the NPC Standing Committee’s Aug. 31 decision, which limits the nominating right to the members of an election committee and requires a candidate to secure the support of at least half of the committee members to join the race, the talks could go nowhere, observers say.

The reason is that the pan-democrats as well as a large section of the Hong Kong public want an open nomination system, where the citizens will have the power to nominate the candidates.

From the pan-democrats’ perspective, it is a good time to seek a meeting with Beijing officials as public opinion has been shifting from the “take the Beijing plan first” to opposing the package.

Meanwhile, the government needs to secure the support of four more lawmakers if it is to pass the electoral reform package in the Legislative Council later this year. Legislators representing some functional constituencies have said they plan to veto the package due to voters’ opposition.

Given this situation, the government may need to offer an olive branch to some friendly pan-democrats in order to secure the four additional votes needed to pass the reform plan.

Should talks take place next month, it will suit both sides to abandon their rigid positions and listen to each other. Beijing needs to bear in mind the 79-day Occupy pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, which came basically in reaction to the NPC’s Aug. 31 announcement. Pan-democrats, on their part, need to show sincerity and convince Beijing that they do not have links with external forces or support calls for Hong Kong independence.

Some political observers say the chances of a March meeting between pan-democrats and Beijing officials will depend on whether Hong Kong’s leader Leung Chun-ying softens his stance on opposition lawmakers.

In April last year, Leung led a delegation, which included pan-democrats, to a Shanghai meeting where they discussed Hong Kong’s political development with mainland officials. But relations have soured of late following filibustering moves by some opposition lawmakers, and Leung may not be in an agreeable mood.

As the Chinese prepare to usher in the Year of the Goat, the reality is that both sides must learn to compromise if they are to make any progress in trying to break the deadlock over political reform.

Top government officials like Carrie Lam should strive to narrow the differences before talks begin, keeping the general public sentiment in mind. Without a harmonious sentiment, any fresh talks with Beijing are doomed to fail.

–Contact us at [email protected]

SC/JP/RC

EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe