Chairing the HK debate
FIRST he compared Hong Kong to a priceless teapot. Now Chinese leader Li Ruihuan seems to be encouraging critics to voice their views on Beijing's policy towards the territory. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman's comments are a clear indication that the mainland leadership does not act as a monolith when it comes to Hong Kong. Differences of opinion exist, with Mr Li, although he has no direct role in policy towards the territory, at the most liberal end of the political spectrum. His acknowledgement that not all Hong Kong Chinese will welcome next year's change of sovereignty is only common sense. Equally welcome is his emphasis on the need to listen to diverse views on the territory's future.
By warning that the most urgent priority must be to ensure central government departments act according to the Basic Law, Mr Li recognises there is a danger they may try to interfere in local affairs after the handover. This echoes other Chinese officials' concerns that post-1997 meddling by mainland officials could 'kill Hong Kong'. Taken together, such comments suggest a powerful element within the mainland leadership who appreciate that one of the greatest threats to a smooth transition could come from misplaced actions by their colleagues.
It is impossible to tell whether such fears are privately shared by others in Beijing. But, as the handover approaches, further hints of differences of opinion over how to handle Hong Kong are only to be expected. The issue is of crucial importance to the mainland leadership. Providing their discussions do not degenerate into a power struggle, a healthy debate over what approach to adopt is in the territory's best interests, especially if it ends with Mr Li's views prevailing.