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Hopes and fears: Zhang Dejiang visits Hong Kong

The case for better relations with the mainland is stronger than ever

There is a long way to go, but it is to be hoped that both sides can work hard to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 11:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 11:25pm

The door for a long-overdue change in the political relationship was left open when Beijing mapped out the boundaries within which ties with Hong Kong pan-democrats could be improved. On the eve of the day marking the city’s return to Chinese rule, a top mainland official seemed to have extended an olive branch to the pan-democratic camp. But Beijing’s bottom line has also been spelled out at the same time. The members should not interfere with mainland affairs and turn Hong Kong into a source of trouble for the country.

Top Beijing official for Hong Kong claims pan-democrats can become ‘constructive force’ in restless city

The latest “carrot and stick” message by Wang Guangya, head of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, is in line with the tone of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, who has visited the city recently.

It goes without saying that lawmakers and the legislature are an integral part of the governance structure. It is nonetheless politically significant when Wang recognises the pan-democrats as part of the establishment; and that Beijing hopes that they can become a constructive force for the city’s development.

There has been speculation that Beijing may lift the ban on individual pan-democrats returning to the mainland. Wang stopped short of elaborating when he said efforts were being made to resolve pan-democrats’ problems relating to the mainland. But the remarks suggest Beijing is prepared to reach out to the camp more often, which is to be welcomed.

‘Ball is in Beijing’s court’, Hong Kong pan-democrats say after meeting with Zhang Dejiang

Whether the gesture will be followed by substantive change remains to be seen. Sceptics say it could be nothing more than a tactic to create a cordial political atmosphere in the city in the run-up to the elections of the Legislative Council and the chief executive. Individual pan-democrats also remain defiant and said they would seek to influence what they see as necessary improvements on the mainland.

Admittedly, there is still a long way to go before the long-standing political divide can be bridged. Those who joined the annual July 1 mass protest yesterday were not necessarily anti-Beijing. But the outpouring of grievances, be it about objecting to a possible second term by Leung Chun-ying or voicing concerns over one country, two systems in the wake of the missing booksellers case, showed a lot more needs to be done to narrow the gap. As we move towards the 20th anniversary of reunification, the case for better relations between Hong Kong and Beijing is even stronger. It is to be hoped that both sides can work hard to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation.