Late last month, Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council, reiterated during a media interview that the central government will fully respect the difference between Hong Kong and the mainland under “Two Systems” as long as the principle of “One Country” is upheld.
In the meantime, Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, also said in a separate interview that the central authorities are firmly committed to making sure that the existing social institution and system of Hong Kong laid down by the Basic Law is free from any intervention or interference from the mainland.
The reassurances by the two officials have, however, failed to allay the growing concerns among Hongkongers about Beijing’s perceived blatant and extensive interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
When Zhang came to Hong Kong and took office four years ago, he publicly laid down four major duties which he said the Liaison Office should fulfill. They are: 1. to earnestly execute the central government’s policies towards Hong Kong; 2. to thoroughly, objectively and accurately keep Beijing informed of the latest state of affairs in Hong Kong; 3. to provide unwavering support for the Chief Executive and the SAR administration, and 4. To offer help to the Special Administrative Region at the request of the SAR government.
However, we have seen over the years that the Liaison Office has done a lot more than that.
I remember shortly after Zhang had assumed office in 2013, I wrote an article in the HKEJ calling into question whether the Liaison Office’s active and almost open involvement in our local elections, such as “coordinating” votes for pro-establishment candidates, would constitute a violation of its jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, under director Zhang, the Liaison Office’s intervention in Hong Kong local elections has continued to escalate and become increasingly high-profile.
For example, at a fund-raising banquet organized by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) in 2014, a Chinese calligraphy produced by Zhang especially for the occasion raised a whopping HK$13.8 million.
Then last year at the same occasion, Zhang once again produced a calligraphy and raised a record-breaking HK$18.8 million for the DAB.
It appears that when Zhang said one of his major duties was to earnestly execute Beijing’s policies towards Hong Kong, what he was actually referring to was that the Liaison Office would throw its full weight behind pro-establishment parties in order to give them an unfair advantage over the pro-democracy camp in terms of resources and manpower.
Last year, a former online radio program host was convicted of committing vote-rigging in the 2015 District Council election and was sentenced to four years in prison.
According to media reports, he was found guilty of trying to lure a number of localist activists into running against some pan-democratic candidates in that election in order to undermine their odds of winning and influence the election results. If the activists agreed to do so, each of them would be given HK$150,000 to HK$250,000 as a reward.
What was truly alarming about the case is that according to some of the details revealed during the trial, some “intermediaries” allegedly representing the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China (中共中央統戰部）were involved in the conspiracy.
If the allegation was true, then it would amount to a state-sponsored vote-rigging plot in order to influence the outcome of our elections, which cries out for further investigation by our local authorities and clarification by the Liaison Office.
In order to restore public confidence in “One Country Two Systems”, I believe it is time for the Liaison Office to reflect on its interventionist approach to Hong Kong in the past and seriously consider washing its hands off our local elections and stop supporting the campaigns of the pro-establishment camp.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 11
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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