A week after Carrie Lam won the chief executive election, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying visited the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong and met with its director Zhang Xiaoming.
Both officials refused to elaborate on the purpose of their meeting, although some local media quoted unnamed sources saying it was a “normal business meeting”.
However, the meeting once again raised suspicions that Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” is being undermined by Beijing officials in the city.
No less than CY Leung, through his office, has fueled such suspicions. In a rare move, his office issued a statement to confirm his visit to the Liaison Office.
The media statement said: “The Chief Executive’s Office said the Chief Executive and government officials will visit Central Government offices in Hong Kong from time to time to discuss issues within the scope of powers and responsibilities of the Central Authorities under the Basic Law. They will also discuss cooperation and mutual development between Hong Kong and the Mainland.”
This is clearly a violation of the “one country, two systems” principle. Article 22 of the Basic Law states: “No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”
If the Liaison Office is part of the central government, as reflected in its official name, then it has no role to play in Hong Kong affairs.
On June 25, 2015, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen stressed that the Liaison Office has a role in maintaining relations between the central government and Hong Kong government.
Yuen was responding to media queries concerning an evening tea gathering organized by the Liaison Office for pro-establishment lawmakers. He said the gathering was a good opportunity for the two sides to communicate.
There’s no question that the Liaison Office has to maintain contact with the Hong Kong government as far as cooperation with the central government is concerned.
The problem is that the Liaison Office has often acted far beyond the scope of its duties.
This has led to the long-term question over its relevance under the “one country, two systems” framework.
The truth is that there is no clear provision in the Basic Law that defines the scope of its duties or enumerates its responsibilities.
In a Legislative Council meeting Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang has asked for records of exchanges between the chief executive and officials of the Liaison Office.
However, Alice Lau Yim, Permanent Secretary at the Chief Executive’s Office, replied that it was unable to provide the number of meetings held and what was discussed during those meetings.
Interestingly, two pro-Beijing newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, which are under the control of the Liaison Office, played up the story about Leung’s visit to the Liaison Office, running it with commentaries headlined “The duty of the Liaison Office is legal” and “A permanent arrangement for the exchanges between the chief executive and the Liaison Office”.
Apparently, the articles were in response to Kwok’s question on the number of CY Leung’s visits to the Liaison Office during his term.
According to Wen Wei Po, Hong Kong’s chief executive must be accountable to both Beijing and the Hong Kong government.
It is quite natural for Leung to visit the Liaison Office to exchange views related to their duties. Hong Kong needs to seize opportunities to cooperate with other Chinese cities, and it is the duty of the Liaison Office to help Hong Kong establish such cooperation, the article said.
Most Hong Kong people believe that such exchanges are good for the city, and both side should consider making it a permanent arrangement.
Still, the real function of the Liaison Office in relation to the Hong Kong government confuses a lot of people in the territory.
They suspect that the Liaison Office functions as Communist Party secretary to Hong Kong, that is, the party’s representative office in Hong Kong.
In China’s bureaucracy, a party secretary ranks higher than the head of a local goverment.
That’s why Hong Kong people hate it when the Liaison Office interferes in local affairs. They believe that it is overstepping the limits of its power.
Last week, Carrie Lam urged the Liaison Office to leave local affairs for Hong Kong officials to handle.
But after CY Leung’s high-profile meeting with Zhang at the Sai Wan office, Lam is no doubt being reminded that when she assumes office on July 1, there are still two senior officials on top of her.
This early, pressure is building up for Lam to accept that a triumvirate will have to rule Hong Kong: CY Leung, the Liaison Office and herself.
So how can Lam have full control of her administration in the next five years?
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