The restriction on some pan-democratic lawmakers visiting the mainland is one of the political oddities of the "one country, two systems" formula. Despite their popular mandate in Hong Kong, they are treated as persona non grata across the border. For decades, Beijing has barred them from setting foot on the mainland, while the rest of the community can travel freely in and out using their home return permits.
That some lawmakers cannot move around freely in their own country is baffling. Occasionally, the door is opened as a goodwill gesture to allow individuals in for a specific purpose. But it is never flung wide for unrestricted entry and exit. The ban is not only unfair, it also deepens distrust and hinders communication between Beijing and the pan-democrats. It is in the interest of both sides to remove the restriction.
The anomaly goes back as far as 1989, when some democrats were deprived of their permits because of their ties with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which calls for an end to Communist Party rule. The ban also covers some political activists and others critical of Beijing's rule. The national authorities may think they are a threat to social stability and national security, but to most people they are simply denied the freedom to move around in their own country because of political dissent. The restriction does not square with China's status as a rising global power. It is doing itself a disservice by denying the pan-democrats the chance to see for themselves how the country has moved on since they last set foot on mainland soil.
The ice-breaking invitation for all 70 lawmakers to go to Shanghai next month has led to renewed calls to lift the ban. While there is no need to boycott the trip because of the home return permit issue, Beijing should consider lifting the ban. The issue has been followed up by three chief executives since the handover, but regrettably little progress has been made. It is good that the liaison office in Hong Kong is said to be giving it positive consideration, though any changes will have to be decided by the central government.
Political reconciliation takes time. It would be naive to think that the long-standing divide can be bridged overnight by a change in entry and exit arrangements. But allowing all our lawmakers to travel freely in their own country will be a positive step. The more the two sides communicate and understand each other, the greater the benefits for both.