23 October 2016
Zhang Xiaoming, the high-profile head of the Liaison Office, is unusually quiet about the outcome of the Legco election. Photo: Xinhua
Zhang Xiaoming, the high-profile head of the Liaison Office, is unusually quiet about the outcome of the Legco election. Photo: Xinhua

Why Zhang Xiaoming is silent about election results

Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Beijing was not supposed to be involved in the recently concluded Legislative Council election.

The only time it said something in relation to the election was when the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council issued a statement against Hong Kong independence.

It said: “We firmly oppose any activity relating to Hong Kong independence in any form, inside or outside the Legislative Council, and firmly support the Hong Kong government to impose punishment in accordance with the law.”

The office criticized some candidates for using the election as a platform to “openly promote” independence, stressing that it is against China’s constitution as well as the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s own mini-constitution.

However, the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong, which is considered Hong Kong’s other government representing Beijing’s interests, remained silent throughout the election, refusing to comment even on the results of the exercise.

Zhang Xiaoming, a high-profile Beijing official who heads the office, did not make any public statement since mid-July when he asked whether it was a matter of rule of law to allow independence candidates to stand in the Legco election.

Based on Zhang’s track record, it is quite rare for him to keep his mouth shut on issues, particularly political issues, related to Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing.

But only the politically naive will say that Zhang’s silence proves that Beijing has not interfered in the Legco election.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who won a seat in the Hong Kong Island constituency with more than 60,000 votes, was among the winning candidates who were seen visiting the Liaison Office after election day.

Although Ip at first denied going to the Liaison Office, saying she had just asked her driver to return some books, she later admitted that she indeed visited the office.

Apologizing to reporters, Ip said she was forced to lie because of the confidentiality of her meeting with the Liaison Office officials.

Ip’s New People’s Party is the biggest winner among pro-Beijing parties in the election.

Three party members won their seats in the geographical constituencies, their combined votes around 100,000 votes higher that what the party garnered four years ago.

Political observers attribute the party’s resounding victory to the solid support given by the Liaison Office.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, one of the oldest pro-Beijing organizations in the territory, added around 42,000 votes in the geographical constituencies but lost one seat.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the biggest pro-Beijing party, also lost one seat and saw its combined votes fall by around 4,500 votes.

From the results of the Legco election, we could see that the Liaison Office was exerting more effort to help the New People’s Party gain more support in the local communities. 

That help allowed Ip’s party to gain control of New Territories East, in addition to New Territories West and Hong Kong Island.

Otherwise, it would be quite difficult to explain why HKFTU lost in the New Territories East constituency under a highly efficient vote allocation mechanism adopted by the pro-Beijing camp.

Among the new faces to be seen in the next Legco is that of New People’s Party member Eunice Yung Hoi-yan.

Yung has voiced her uneasiness with the party’s image of having close links with the Liaison Office, noting that her party did not have to discuss the election with the office.

But she did say in a radio program that she had paid a visit to the Chinese national security bureau to discuss visa policies for Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong.

That said, the New People’s Party is proud of its good relations with the Liaison Office as it gives the impression that the party can stand above the DAB and HKFTU as the leading force in the pro-Beijing camp.

Recently, pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Pao Daily News said the Liaison Office joined forces with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to get more involved in Hong Kong affairs, thereby breaching the Basic Law provisions guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy.

It’s interesting to get the real score about the role played by the Liaison Office in the recent election. And what will now happen to Ip’s New People’s Party?

In view of the strong support it got from Beijing, will the party now represent Beijing in the city’s political arena even if its policies run counter to Hong Kong’s interests?

Since winning the chief executive election in 2012, CY Leung has focused his administration’s efforts in strengthening relations with Beijing rather than listening to the views and sentiments of Hong Kong people.

Is that the inconvenient truth Zhang is keeping mum about?

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EJ Insight writer

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