City's politicians play tough game of 'pass the message'
Memory lapses and language barrier leave holes in Beijing officials' messages to Hongkongers
Joshua But and Colleen Lee
Playing the role of Beijing's messenger is probably one of the trickiest tasks that Hong Kong politicians face.
As mainland officials rarely comment publicly on the city's issues under the "one country, two systems" principle, the central government's messages to the administration are often delivered behind closed doors.
As a result, the media has to rely heavily on the messenger - usually a pro-establishment figure - to shed light on Beijing's views on Hong Kong matters.
But sometimes, like in a game of Chinese whispers, these messengers fail to pass on the full message to their audiences.
Last month in Beijing, local delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference apparently did not deliver the complete comments of Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng in a closed-door meeting.
Asked by journalists on March 6 what he said during the meeting, some delegates cited Yu as saying he was confident that the Hong Kong government would handle properly the tensions between the mainland and the city.
But they failed to mention that in the meeting, Yu also rebuked the Hong Kong activists who waved colonial flags at recent protests and that he also warned that opposition forces would not be allowed to rule the city after universal suffrage was introduced.
Asked the following day whether they had collectively held back part of Yu's speech on purpose, a delegate argued that he could have forgotten part of what the official had said.
Apart from lapses in the messengers' memory, the language barrier between Beijing officials and Hong Kong politicians is another problem.
Last Sunday, almost 40 pro-establishment lawmakers attended a closed-door seminar with Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee under the National People's Congress, during which he spoke about the Basic Law concerning the electoral reform.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong chairman Tam Yiu-chung, who was the "official" messenger, spoke to the media right after the meeting about Qiao's perspectives regarding the issue.
He brought up Qiao's opinion of the need to bar from qualifying as chief executive candidates those who opposed the central government, but did not mention that the official also cited former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan as an example.
Journalists have attempted to seek more information from other lawmakers who attended the seminar, but at least two privately said they could not recall all the details of the meeting as Qiao had been speaking in Putonghua.
After the seminar, Qiao issued an abridged version of his speech; a full version was released on Wednesday. The full speech by Wang Guangya, director of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, in the same meeting was released on Friday.
Veteran political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it was uncommon for mainland authorities to release their full speeches after closed-door meetings, but that this did not mean Beijing was getting more transparent.
"It only shows that Beijing is launching a public opinion battle in the electoral reform," he said. "They are hoping the official speeches will bear the authority to convince Hong Kong people."