Pan-democrats’ talks in Shanghai only first step in reform debate with Beijing
Outcome suggests Beijing is willing to continue dialogue with pan-democratic camp over 2017 chief executive election, but only up to a point
Even before pan-democratic lawmakers flew to Shanghai on Friday, it was seen as a foregone conclusion that their talks with mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs would do little to bridge the divide between the two sides.
So few were surprised by the result of the meeting on Sunday with Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei and the director of the central government's liaison office, Zhang Xiaoming .
Yet the relatively cosy atmosphere of the meeting indicated Beijing's willingness to engage in further dialogue with pan-democrats over how to elect the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017.
A moderate pan-democrat believes the talks allow for a normalisation of ties between Beijing and pan-democrats, taking some of the heat off those eager to engage in dialogue.
In response to the call for the public to be allowed to nominate candidates for chief executive, Wang reiterated that any proposal that usurped or watered down the power of the nominating committee would be inconsistent with the Basic Law.
Concerning the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, Wang said the central government had made a conclusion and that it was inappropriate for certain Hongkongers to cite the incident to attack the mainland's political system.
Wang was referring to "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung's aborting of his trip to Shanghai on Friday after he insisted on keeping items related to the crackdown.
The atmosphere at the seminar on Sunday, marked by Wang's witty retorts, was cozier than that of the meeting between 59 lawmakers and then-Guangdong Communist Party secretary and Politburo member Zhang Dejiang in Guangzhou nine years ago. There was a tense moment during the meeting on September 25, 2005, when four pan-democrat lawmakers raised the question of reversing the official verdict on the 1989 crackdown. That prompted a blunt response from Zhang - now chairman of the National People's Congress and the state leader overseeing Hong Kong's affairs - who said the central government had made the right decision concerning June 4.
On Sunday, mainland officials followed a well-prepared script - they tried to show a willingness to continue the dialogue with pan-democrats but firmly stuck to their position.
"Beijing obviously intends to maintain a harmonious atmosphere for further talks with pan-democrats on political reform. Its soft stance can help ease suspicion among the public towards dialogue on political reform," said the moderate pan-democrat, who asked not to be named.
Moderate pan-democrats hope to turn the focus of public discussion on how to make the nominating committee more representative, rather than the issue of public nomination, which has been rejected by Beijing.
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said he believed substantive discussions would take place at the meeting between Zhang Xiaoming and the 17 pan-democratic lawmakers who did not join the talks with central government officials on Sunday.
"Beijing will try to sound out the pan-democrats' bottom line then," he said.