Mainland China’s lifting of pan-dem entry ban is to be welcomed
The olive branch in granting home return permits to incumbent and former pan-democrat lawmakers is a right step for conciliation but the divide cannot be bridged overnight
The relations between Beijing and the pan-democratic camp in Hong Kong have been anything but good. Hostility and distrust have resulted in some democratically elected lawmakers barred from visiting the mainland for years. The entry ban not only sits oddly with the freedom of travel granted to Hongkongers under “one country, two systems”, it also creates a political divide with the camp and their supporters, and does nothing for building trust, dialogue and cooperation.
The anomaly dates back to the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, after which some leading democrats formed the Alliance in Support of Democratic Patriotic Movements in China and called for an end to one-party rule on the mainland. The travel restriction also covers individuals deemed by Beijing as troublemakers.
Successive chief executives have pledged to help pan-democrats secure a home return permit, the card issued to Hong Kong Chinese permanent residents to visit the mainland, but little progress has been made. Occasionally, organised visits were arranged as a goodwill gesture, such as the invitation for all Legco members to visit Shanghai in 2014. But the door is never flung wide for unrestricted entry.
It is not uncommon for countries to deny entry on national security and other grounds. The mainland authorities are also entitled to determine who can enter in accordance with the law. Beijing may think the pan-democrats are a threat to social stability and national security on the mainland. But to many people, the pan-democrats are shut out simply because of political dissent.
The news that incumbent and former pan-democrat lawmakers are to be granted regular permits to visit the mainland is to be welcomed. Long overdue as it is, the olive branch is a right step for conciliation. We hope it is not just a tactic to create a cordial atmosphere ahead of the polls to elect the chief executive.
The lukewarm response from some pan-democrats is to be expected. After all, the divide cannot be bridged overnight by just lifting the entry ban. Now that Beijing has made a move, it would do well for the pan-democrats to reciprocate. This is not to say they should see eye to eye with Beijing on everything. But a positive response will go a long way in breaking the ice, which hopefully, will pave the way for communication and cooperation. It is in the interest of both sides to put aside differences and work towards the common good of Hong Kong.