A confidential Executive Council memo that requires all future policy proposals to factor in the likely mainland reaction has sparked concern that the government is putting mainland interests ahead of Hong Kong's.
One government administrative officer called the memo "odd", and said colleagues were stunned when they received it early this month. A ruling that the assessment be omitted from papers submitted to lawmakers has prompted further questions.
Executive councillor and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said that as recent policies had courted criticism from the mainland, "it would be reasonable to remind civil servants that they should do such an assessment".
The memo comes amid heightened Hong Kong-mainland tensions, with Leung Chun-ying's administration facing mainlanders' criticism for policies that affect their interests, especially a limit on baby-formula exports of two cans per person per day to stop rampant buying up of supplies by parallel-goods traders who smuggle the milk over the border.
"From June 1, an assessment on mainland perception and related public relations measures will become … mandatory … for all Policy Committee papers and Executive Council submissions", the document, leaked to Apple Daily, reads. It was issued to administrative officers by the Executive Council secretariat on May 2, an officer told the South China Morning Post.
"When we saw the memo, we nearly fell off our chairs. It's just odd," the officer, who preferred not to be named, said.
He said he doubted the need for the requirement, as it was usual practice to put assessments of different stakeholders' reactions under a "public reaction" chapter in policy papers.
The memo says all policy bureaus and departments should, using common sense, assess the reaction of the mainland community to their policies, including governments, the people, the media and organisations. It should also suggest whether it is necessary to liaise with and explain the policy to them.
A government spokesman said a range of factors were considered in policymaking, and assessing mainland reaction was "responsible behaviour".
"We stress that the government departments will make the assessments in strict accordance with the Basic Law and 'one country, two systems'."
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said: "Under 'one country, two systems', there is no reason why Hong Kong's policymakers should be constantly looking over their shoulders, trying to second-guess possible mainland reaction."
She said there had been no requirement before the handover to assess UK reaction to domestic policy issues, even when these had significant implications for British commercial interests.
Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit said he was puzzled to see the government making "common sense" a black-and-white requirement.
"I fear that this could send the wrong message and civil servants would think that mainland interests could override those of the people of Hong Kong."
But one executive councillor said he did not think the memo would affect policymakers.
"If officials are over-concerned with mainland reaction, their integrity will be questioned by lawmakers when they go to lobby for their policies."