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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Warming relations provides foundation that can be built on

Hong Kong faces many challenges that could be resolved more easily if areas of agreement can be found between Beijing and the city’s democrats. Recent events give cause for hope

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 6:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 6:12am

The historic meeting between North and South Korean leaders on Friday has raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to a seemingly intractable problem. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there are signs that peace of a different kind has broken out between Beijing and members of the pro-democracy opposition.

It is to be hoped that these foundations can be built on so that progress can made in tackling some of the city’s more challenging issues.

Last weekend, 23 lawmakers – including nine democrats – toured five cities in Guangdong to learn more about the potential economic benefits of the “Greater Bay Area” project.

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Then, on Monday, Wang Zhimin, head of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, visited the Legislative Council. He spoke at a lunch attended by 51 lawmakers, including 10 pan-democrats. Five democrats were seated at the head table.

During his visit, the first by a liaison office chief since 2013, Wang praised lawmakers, including democrats, for condemning Japan’s revision of history textbooks in 2005 and visiting the scene of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. These moves are welcome.

After the rancour and political division following the Occupy protests in 2014, and more recent disqualification of democrat lawmakers, there is a need for understanding on both sides.

Wang invited lawmakers to visit the Liaison Office in Western, which held its first open day for visitors at the weekend.

The invitation to lawmakers presents the democrats with a dilemma. The last time democrat lawmakers paid a visit there, in 2010, they struck a deal on electoral reforms. But the meeting sparked a backlash against those involved from their own supporters. It is not surprising democrats have treated the invitation with caution. But if it is extended, they should accept.

Any opportunity to exchange views, even in an informal manner, should be grasped. It would be a chance for democrats to get their views across. Visiting and talking does not mean they have to surrender their principles. It holds out hope that bridges can be built and common ground found.

Not all democrats have been treated so warmly by Beijing – and not all accepted the invitation to lunch with Wang. The radicals, with their pro-independence tendencies, are now seen by Beijing as the biggest threat.

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This means there is a chance for the more moderate democrats to engage in meaningful dialogue. Hong Kong faces many challenges which could be resolved more easily if areas of agreement can be found between Beijing and the democrats.

Universal suffrage, a notable example, will only be achieved if the two sides can agree on the way forward. The relationship is fragile and there is a long way to go, if ties are to be mended. But the recent warming in relations is a step forward. It provides a foundation which can be built on.