Lawmakers should not spurn Shanghai offer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 4:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 5:19am

There appears to be a thaw in political tension between Beijing and pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong. In a rare move, the central government has invited all legislators to visit Shanghai next month. The gesture is significant in that it is the third invitation in 10 years for local lawmakers, some of whom are barred from visiting the mainland because of their dissenting views. Given the prevailing divide over constitutional reform, there is no better way to bridge the gap than inviting all 70 members to cross the border and discuss issues of mutual concern. Credit goes to the chief executive for securing the trip.

Regrettably, the invitation has already been cold-shouldered by some pan-democrats. Their explanations are difficult to understand. For instance, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said she would never set foot on the soil of mainland China until she could travel freely. Others dismissed the trip as a propaganda show, saying there is no point going if discussions are held behind closed doors.

The lawmakers may think they have valid reasons to boycott the trip. But their actions are mere political gestures that will not help narrow the gap. They will disappoint those who voted for them to make a difference. Instead of seizing opportunities to push their demands, they have opted for a non-engagement approach. This falls short of public expectations that our lawmakers should act with the city's best interests at heart.

The agenda of the two-day trip remains unclear at this stage. Nor do we know whom the legislators will meet. But the trip has been touted as an opportunity for Beijing and lawmakers, in particular the pan-democrats who command enough votes to veto any reform package, to discuss constitutional reform. It will be up to the Legislative Council to make the best of it.

If the two previous trips to the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and Guangzhou in 2005 are any reference, they are rich in symbolic meaning but lack substance. If the coming trip is meant to smooth the way forward for constitutional reform, it will take exceptional endeavour on both sides to make a breakthrough. Nonetheless, it is a good starting point.

Consensus can never arise from frosty relations. Dialogue is always preferable to confrontation. At stake is the future of Hong Kong. Legislators should put side personal interest and try to build common ground to move forward. Only through exchange and compromise can universal suffrage be achieved.