Democrats want to talk not gawk during visit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2005, 12:00am

Party chief Lee Wing-tat says meetings, not sightseeing, should be the priority

Democratic Party legislators may boycott sightseeing activities during their trip to the Pearl River Delta region this weekend if a formal meeting with senior Guangdong officials cannot be arranged, party chairman Lee Wing-tat warned.

But other members of the party said it was acceptable to take part in protocol events, such as a cruise on the Pearl River, if informal contacts can be made with officials.

The trip is the first chance since 1989 for many democrats to visit cities such as Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou and Zhongshan. Beijing barred them from crossing the border in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown.

It is understood that Guangdong Communist Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang and Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua will meet legislators on Sunday, during which various party leaders are likely to speak.

They will then join other provincial officials at a dinner, followed by the river cruise, as part of the plan to give them a first-hand look at life in Guangzhou. In addition to visits to infrastructural projects in the Pearl River Delta region, the legislators are expected to visit cultural and historical sites.

Gao Siren, director of the central government's liaison office, said the trip would provide the opportunity for legislators to better understand the mainland. But Mr Lee was concerned a detailed meeting with Mr Zhang looked unlikely. The pro-democracy camp had earlier requested discussions on nine major topics, including food safety and economic integration.

'We need to sit down and discuss things in detail, and I don't want a repeat of Zeng Qinghong's visit where we didn't even have the chance to shake hands,' he said, referring to the vice-president's visit to Hong Kong earlier this month.

'If they say the schedule is too tight for meetings, we may not go to any sightseeing activities. After all, we are not on a sightseeing tour.'

But fellow Democrat Sin Chung-kai said they could submit their views in writing. 'There are many ways to communicate and we can discuss the issues with mainland [representatives] over a drink on the boat,' he said.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a pro-democracy legislator of the Article 45 Concern Group, said: 'I think this is the start of a healthy relationship, although more dialogue with officials like Mr Zhang would make the trip more fruitful.'

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, a City University professor of public administration, said they should 'play Beijing's game by its rules' by building political ties through economic discussions.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said it strongly opposed the mainland's 'selective and unfair' treatment of some media organisations. The statement came after Apple Daily and Radio Free Asia were reportedly denied the opportunity to cover the legislators' visit.