23 October 2016
Beijing officials' recent tough words on Hong Kong's electoral system may have been part of an expectations management strategy. Photo: HKEJ
Beijing officials' recent tough words on Hong Kong's electoral system may have been part of an expectations management strategy. Photo: HKEJ

Is there more behind Beijing’s tough talk on HK reform?

Mainland officials responsible for political reforms in Hong Kong went to Shenzhen on May 31 to meet with Hong Kong’s legislative councilors, particularly the pan-democrats.

On the surface, Beijing officials took an even tougher stance this time, and left no room for any negotiation over the terms of the reform proposal.

However, if we take a closer look at the Sunday meeting, we may discover that there might have been a catch somewhere.

The meeting itself could have been nothing but a big act, or simply put, a massive undertaking of “expectation management” intended to pave the way for some kind of a twist later, and for some of the pan-democrats to fall into line in a more decent way.

In fact the meeting on May 31 was rather different from any other previous meetings between Beijing officials and the pan-democrats in the past two years in terms of arrangements.

The meeting was arranged at such a short notice that actually no official department was responsible for its preparation, unlike the trip to Shanghai last April, which was officially coordinated by Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-shing, and the meeting in Shenzhen in August last year, which was arranged by the Hong Kong government.

It was only after a pan-democratic lawmaker received a phone call from a mainland official, after which he notified the media of it, the news about the meeting began to come to light.

At the beginning, many pan-democratic lawmakers said they hadn’t received any government notice about such meeting at all. Even on the first day of the entry period, only less than 30 lawmakers signed up, suggesting that most pro-establishment lawmakers thought it would be a total waste of time to go to such a meeting.

Then on the second day, the rest of the pro-establishment legislators suddenly rushed to sign up for the trip, as did 15 of the pan-democrats, probably because someone behind the scene had ordered them to.

In the end, apart from Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who preferred to go to horse races, and radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung , who was denied visa for fear that he might disrupt the meeting, all of the lawmakers attended the meeting.

Rather surprisingly, all the pan-democrats looked the other way when Leung was not allowed to come along, which suggests that the pan-democrats and Beijing might have had reached some sort of an agreement.

During the meeting, Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office Wang Guangya candidly admitted that the so-called universal suffrage was indeed screening, and that the design of the chief executive (CE) election system under the framework of the “831 resolution” was aimed at eliminating all the potential candidates who were collaborating with foreign hostile forces to undermine Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong under the pretext of promoting democracy.

Meanwhile, Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, also said the 831 resolution would not only apply to the CE election in 2017, but also to all subsequent elections. In other words, “pocket it first” means “pocket it for life”.

In the meantime, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, warned the pan-democrats that they might face the punishment of voters in the coming elections if they vetoed the reform proposal.

It seems we have ended up in a blind alley and all the efforts to break the current political deadlock have proven in vain. However, let’s not forget our paramount leaders in Beijing always have the final word on all important national issues, and up to this moment President Xi Jinping hasn’t publicly said a word over our political reform yet.

If Xi makes a concession at the last minute, such as replacing the so-called “company vote” by “director vote” or “individual vote” within the nomination committee, or agreeing to further expand the number of seats in Legco so that more pan-democrats can get elected, it remains possible that the pan-democrats, who have pledged so hard to veto any proposal under the framework of the 831 resolution, might in the end go back on their word and vote for it.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 3.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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