21 April 2019
Zhang Dejiang (foreground) is a guest of Leung Chun-ying (second from left) during his three-day visit to Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
Zhang Dejiang (foreground) is a guest of Leung Chun-ying (second from left) during his three-day visit to Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Why pan-dems may have already lost an opportunity with Zhang

There’s a place at the table for pan-democrats during the three-day visit of Zhang Dejiang, the top Beijing official responsible for Hong Kong.

Well, sort of. They are boycotting an official dinner but they have accepted an invitation to a cocktail reception.

In either case, they will have a short, informal interaction with Zhang, unlike in a proper meeting where issues can be discussed across the table.

Zhang is here to give a speech at the Belt and Road Summit at the invitation of Leung Chun-ying, who is known for his zeal in pushing China’s grand idea of an Asia-Europe economic corridor. 

That means Leung decides who is in, who is out and how the attendees should behave.

He set the terms early on by requiring the invitees to fill out a form which the pan-democrats objected to, leading to their decision not to attend the dinner.

The decision came amid rumors the government was trying to sabotage plans for a proper face-to-face between Zhang and the pan-democrats.

But Leung quickly privoted from what could have been an embarrassment for Zhang by inviting four of their top leaders to a cocktail reception on Wednesday.

That’s the back story behind the decision of Emily Lau, Alan Leong, Cyd Ho and Joseph Lee to attend. 

But they won’t be there to talk politics with Zhang, given the nature of these gatherings, so they have instead written letters outlining their proposals.    

Six pro-Beijing lawmakers will be in the mix but they’re more likely to engage Zhang in small talk than any serious discussion of issues.

It’s interesting that Lau and her group are intent on relaunching electoral reform and stopping another five-year term for Leung.

Nothing wrong with that.

After all, these issues relate to the expiry of the status quo in 2047 when “one country, two systems” ceases to exist.

In that context, it’s never too early to discuss the future.

But you have to wonder why there’s scant mention of the issues that are deepening Hong Kong’s social divide such as the erosion of its core values.

When there’s not a word about Beijing’s increased meddling in Hong Kong, it’s easy to forget that “one country, two systems” has more than 30 years to run.

How about the emerging tide of localism, the Mong Kok clashes and the rise of a pro-independence mindset? How about the growing discontent among young Hong Kong people? 

Granted Lau and her group can only say so much in a letter, they can use the opportunity to focus on these pressing concerns. 

Even Leong, with his idea for a Hong Kong affairs conference, does not come quite close to addressing them in real time.

He said the conference should be called to tackle “specific issues” instead of being held regularly.

Outside of Xi Jinping, Zhang is the best person to deal with Hong Kong issues.

Instead of trying to get Leung out of the way, the pan-democrats should give Zhang the big picture as it looks now.  

There’s a lot they can say about the massive infrastructure projects — from the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to the cross-border high-speed railway — that do more to serve Beijing’s political ends than promote Hong Kong’s own interests.

These expensive undertakings have been rammed down their throats but Hong Kong people have learned to accept them with a sense of resignation.

But that does not mean they don’t want a say in how their money is spent. 

Which is why there’s a lot riding on Zhang’s visit.

There’s a small window of opportunity for the pan-democrats to do service to Hong Kong. They should grab it.  

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EJ Insight writer

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