Political figures dismiss Foreign Ministry stance
Gary Cheung, Greg Torode and Stuart Lau
Local political figures ensnared in the WikiLeaks saga after talking to American diplomats have vowed to continue dialogue with the US Consulate in Hong Kong - despite warnings from the local office of the Foreign Ministry that Washington should stop meddling in the city's affairs.
Their defence of such exchanges as entirely normal came as Beijing's warnings rippled across Hong Kong's extensive diplomatic community. Many envoys also insisted the meetings revealed in the leaked diplomatic cables were merely the 'basic fodder' of diplomats' lives.
According to a report by the semi-official China News Service on Monday and carried on the front-page of the official China Daily yesterday, a spokesman for the Office of the Foreign Ministry Commissioner in Hong Kong said the cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks showed the US Consulate was interfering in the city's constitutional development by holding meetings with selected people and conducting 'so-called opinion exchanges'.
WikiLeaks released 960 diplomatic cables from the US Consulate in Hong Kong at the end of last month. They covered various topics, including discussions on who might be chief executive, the city's democratic development, its financial markets, how it handled waste and water supplies and how the tertiary education sector sees academic freedom on the mainland.
The consulate did not reply to the Post's inquiry yesterday.
The political commentator and former Liberal Party chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei, one of the local political figures who joined meetings with US diplomats in Hong Kong, said there was nothing secret about those gatherings. 'They were not one-on-one meetings and I was just one of the guests invited,' he said.
'The Foreign Ministry does not understand the actual situation in Hong Kong. I just ignore them,' he added.
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who had also met Hong Kong-based US diplomats, said it was very ordinary for consulate officials in Hong Kong to be interested in the city's political and economic affairs.
'Of course the consulate is not giving us any instructions. I'd rather suspect what they're doing here if the consulate staff never showed any interest in us,' she said.
Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of political science at City University and former secretary general of the Civic Party also met US diplomats in recent years. 'It's a convenient case for Beijing to discredit the US consulate and the pro-democracy camp,' he said, adding that he would continue to make himself available to meet anyone interested in dialogue on Hong Kong's political development.
Some Hong Kong-based diplomats said the remarks from the Foreign Ministry office had sent ripples through a community long-used to the city's free-wheeling information exchange.
'The kind of meetings that have surfaced in WikiLeaks here and elsewhere are the basic fodder of a political or economic consul's life,' said one Asian envoy.
'That is what diplomats do, and Beijing does the same thing elsewhere.'