Beijing officials, Hong Kong pan-democrats no closer after holding talks on political reform in Shanghai

The two sides exchange gifts with pointed political messages before liaison office chief promises to hold further talks with lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 6:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 8:35am

Getting the two sides together was an achievement in itself, but hopes a meeting between pan-democratic lawmakers and senior Beijing officials would ease their differences did not last long.

Sparks flew as the sides exchanged gifts - and some barbed comments - in front of the cameras at the start of yesterday's meeting in Shanghai.

And the two hours of exclusive talks that followed "did little" to narrow the divide over democracy in Hong Kong, lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee said.

Fung said the talks had not done much to resolve a deep-rooted divide over questions such as whether the public should have a role in nominating candidates for the 2017 chief executive election, or whether the electoral system should ensure the top job goes to a "patriot".

"The meeting allowed us to understand each others' views, but our divide has not been narrowed," Fung said.

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who moderated the talks, acknowledged that "much distance" remained on some issues, but added: "It was impossible for the divide to be narrowed, or even eliminated, in a single meeting."

Beijing loyalists other than Tsang left the meeting after an hour, giving the 10 pan- democrats who made the trip time with Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei; Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office; and Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming.

The division was on show from the start, as pan-democrats handed over gifts promoting their demand for the 2017 chief executive election: a system that does not "screen" out candidates critical of Beijing. In return, Wang handed out copies of the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.

Fung gave Wang a box containing three tracks, to symbolise the Alliance for True Democracy's demand that the public, political parties and the nominating committee should all get to put forward candidates. The box was wrapped in a copy of the Basic Law, symbolising the belief the idea is constitutional.

Wang responded with a quip about the need for antiques experts to differentiate between "genuine" and "counterfeit" versions of the mini-constitution. "Now I am giving legislator Fung the genuine Basic Law," he said as he handed over his gift.

At the start of the meeting, Zhang criticised pan-democrats for threatening to boycott the Shanghai visit unless they were given time to talk exclusively to the officials. Wang also urged lawmakers to keep conflict to a minimum to ensure Hong Kong's long-term development.

Lawmakers, including the Democratic Party's Helena Wong Pik-wan, urged the officials to maintain communication with the pan-democrats. Zhang said he would meet lawmakers again within the next two months at a venue of their choosing and extended an invitation to lawmakers who did not make the trip. But whether League of Social Democrats chairman "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung gets an invitation is open to question.

Leung flew back from Shanghai on Friday after he refused a request from customs officials to hand over material banned on the mainland. Speaking at a post- meeting press conference, Wang accused Leung of "ignoring the law".

Referring to the June 4, 1989 crackdown, Wang said Beijing and the people of China had "come to a conclusion about the political storm", and the last three decades of reforms showed the people's desire to maintain "stability and social harmony".

Wang dismissed rumours that the central government had opted to support Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for re-election in 2017, saying: "It's not the time yet. There's no such thing."