Beijing will set up a high-level think tank next month to study Hong Kong affairs, including the Basic Law and political reform.
The establishment of the National Association of Study on Hong Kong and Macau comes ahead of the Hong Kong government's launch of a public consultation on arrangements for the next chief executive and Legislative Council elections.
It is expected to be headed by Chen Zuoer , a former deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Academics including Professor Lau Siu-kai, former head of the Central Policy Unit, have been invited to join, while Basic Law Committee member Lau Nai-keung is an adviser.
Professor Lau - tipped to be the association's vice-president - said he had been invited by a "mainland contact" a few months ago to join the think tank.
"The establishment of the research association underscores the importance attached by the central government to Hong Kong issues. It recognises the need to make decisions on Hong Kong based on evidence-based research," Lau said.
"In the first few years of the handover, the central government did not pay much attention to or earmark substantial resources for studying Hong Kong affairs. But it notes there are problems that need to be addressed in light of frequent interactions between the city and mainland."
Lau said that unlike the Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, the association would serve as a platform for exchanges among academics from Hong Kong and the mainland specialising in study on Hong Kong. "It may commission studies if there is a need," the professor said.
The institute was set up by the central government in December 2003, five months after the 500,000-strong July 1 protest march forced the Hong Kong government to shelve the controversial national security legislation. One of its primary tasks is to study and plot strategy on constitutional development.
The institute conducted studies on topics such as the legislative intent of the Basic Law, political reform and Hong Kong's legal system. Some were published in the institute's journal but it is understood that some sensitive ones were not.
Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man, a core organiser of the Occupy Central movement for democracy, said he expected the new think tank would focus not only on the looming political reform but also on the long-term political changes the city faces after 2017.
But he said it must include scholars from across the political spectrum, not just pro-Beijing ones, "to get the whole picture of the real-life political situation".
Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing urged the researchers to conduct studies in a fair, just and transparent way.
Hong Kong University law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, also a Basic Law Committee member, believed the association was established for the purpose of networking scholars in China who engaged in research on Hong Kong and Macau, instead of solely for the upcoming political reform.