A visit by Beijing's top representative in Hong Kong to one of the city's border towns has drawn mixed reactions, with one commentator calling it a PR exercise as part of a popularity contest with the US consul general.
The central government's liaison office posted photographs on its website late on Thursday showing its director, Zhang Xiaoming , visiting Sheung Shui and talking to shopkeepers and residents.
"Director Zhang has paid a visit ... to learn on the ground how the individual visitor scheme and parallel-goods trading have impacted on people's lives," the accompanying article said.
In one picture, Zhang is sitting down in a cha chaan teng, drinking tea with people. He also visited the border checkpoint at Lo Wu and talked to customs officers on the Shenzhen side.
Liaison office chiefs seldom visit local neighbourhoods.
Zhang's trip came while Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was on leave and out of town.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said he did not view the visit negatively. "Zhang tries to show he is reaching out to the people," he said. "This is better than what the liaison office usually does - attending cocktail parties and meeting only the rich and the powerful."
Choy also said the visit could have been part of a campaign to improve the image of the liaison office in the face of "competition" from US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau Clifford Hart, who is often pictured on Facebook dining at cheap restaurants and engaging with locals.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said: "It's all right for Zhang to come out and have a cup of tea and eat egg tarts as long as he does not interfere with Hong Kong's domestic affairs under Article 22 of the Basic Law." The individual visit scheme, launched in 2003, allows 270 million people in 49 cities to visit Hong Kong without joining tour groups.