Beijing's tougher-than-expected framework for electing Hong Kong's chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017 could spell the end of the road for moderates in the pan-democratic camp.
In June 2004, shortly after veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Chin-shek made a surprise plea for a "big reconciliation" between the pan-democratic camp and Beijing, he was invited to meet chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. Lau told Tung that the central and Hong Kong governments should seize the opportunity to engage in dialogue with democrats of his generation who had affection for the mainland.
Headway was made in September 2005 when 59 lawmakers, including those from the pan-democratic camp, were invited for an ice-breaking trip to the Pearl River Delta.
In 2010, Beijing and the Democratic Party reached a deal for a more democratic Legislative Council election in 2012 after intense behind-the-scenes talks.
In the past few months, moderate voices in the pandemocratic camp and some liberal-minded academics have been advocating dialogue with Beijing.
In March, a team of 18 academics, led by SynergyNet vice-chairman Dr Brian Fong Chi-hang and former Democratic Party lawmaker Law Chi-kwong, came up with a compromise proposal that dispenses with the public nomination of candidates for the top post, an idea dismissed by Beijing as inconsistent with the Basic Law.
Yet the National People's Congress Standing Committee's draft proposal for the 2017 chief executive election, which is scheduled to be endorsed on Sunday, has effectively alienated those who advocate dialogue with the central government.
Based on the initial decisions of the committee, only two or three candidates would be allowed to stand for election and they would need 50 per cent support from a 1,200-member nominating committee. The framework has dashed the hopes of moderate pan-democrats that Beijing would leave room for further discussion in a second stage of consultations.
Pan-democrats have vowed to veto the proposal if it contains the same restrictions when it is tabled in the Legislative Council. The government needs the votes of at least five pan-democrats to secure the required two-thirds majority in Legco for reform to go forward.
Fong said the Standing Committee's framework spelled the end of any notion of reform through dialogue with Beijing.
Fung Ho-lup, an adjunct associate professor in Chinese University's department of social work, said: "The biggest harm done by Beijing's tough stance on political reform is that many people, especially those from the younger generation, may think … it's better to resort to radical actions.
"Moderate voices will shrink within the pan-democratic camp in the foreseeable future."