Date
26 September 2017
Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office, often insists he has no hand in the running of Hong Kong but his office is known to be actively involved in local politics. Photo: Xinhua
Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office, often insists he has no hand in the running of Hong Kong but his office is known to be actively involved in local politics. Photo: Xinhua

Why it’s time to review the role of Beijing’s Liaison Office

Just days before the Sept. 4 Legislative Council elections, Ken Chow of the Liberal Party inexplicably dropped out of the race and left Hong Kong.

He later said some powerful people from the mainland wanted him to withdraw from the election in favor of their candidate.

Chow did not mention the candidate but most people know it was Junius Ho, a pro-establishment district councilor believed to have close ties with Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

Things have taken a new twist.

According to news reports, Ho admitted meeting with senior officials from the Liaison Office right after his election victory.

But he said he was there only to discuss his job as a lawmaker in the next Legco, not to give thanks as some had speculated.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party chairman James Tien said the Liaison Office had approached him in July about talking Chow out of running for Legco in order not to undermine Ho’s chances.

Tien said he refused, seeing Chow had a fighting chance.

The matter was left unsettled until Chow suddenly pulled out of the race without giving Tien prior notice.

Tien said the Liberal Party has sent a petition to Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, to request an investigation into Chow’s case and determine whether the Liaison Office overstepped its authority.

Article 22 of the Basic Law states that “no department of the Central People’s Government, nor offices set up by departments of the Central Government in the territory may interfere in the affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.

But it’s an open secret that the Liaison Office has been actively involved in local elections over the years.

In some cases, such as the chief executive election, the Liaison Office might be justified in coordinating the votes of pro-establishment members of the Election Committee.

After all, the power to validate the election results and appoint the chief executive rests with Beijing, so arguably, the CE election is not entirely an internal affair of Hong Kong.

However, Legco elections are different. There is no justification for any kind of interference from the Liaison Office.

Legislators are nominated and elected by the citizens of Hong Kong.

As such, all matters concerning the Legco elections are the sole jurisdiction of the Special Administrative Region.

In other words, the Legco elections are purely an internal affair.

Any attempt by the Liaison Office to influence their outcome is a violation of the Basic Law and “one country, two systems”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 21

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/RA

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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