Hong Kong localism and independence

Beijing chats up Hong Kong lawmakers to learn views on who should lead them in Legco

Political pundit claims informal exchanges by liaison office are ‘problematic’ and show mainland is ‘trying to meddle’ in local affairs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 8:20pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 10:35pm

Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong has asked pro-establishment lawmakers for their views on who should succeed Jasper Tsang Yok-sing as Legislative Council president, but a political pundit said the informal exchanges were problematic as they show the central government is “trying to meddle” in local affairs.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the exchanges reflected the mainland authorities’ worries about the rise of localist lawmakers.

Legco’s top post will be up for grabs next month with Tsang, a veteran Beijing loyalist, stepping down. Three pro-establishment lawmakers – Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, Paul Tse Wai-chun and Michael Tien Puk-sun – have expressed interest in the job, which is to be decided by Legco’s 70 lawmakers on October 12.

As the highest-ranking legislator, the Legco president decides agenda and approves lawmakers’ motions. In recent years, Tsang invoked his power to curb radical lawmakers’ attempts to filibuster against bills and budgets.

This is a big issue in our informal contacts. They care about our views
Starry Lee Wai-king, DAB chairwoman

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, confirmed yesterday that the central government’s representatives in the city had asked her for her views on the Legco presidency.

“This is a big issue in our informal contacts,” she said. “They care about our views.”

Tse told the Post that officials from the liaison office had met him to discuss his bid.

“It’s natural for them to care ... because there will be more localists and radicals in Legco,” he said.

Six localists were elected for the first time in Legco polls earlier this month to form, with the pan-democrats, a 30-strong camp.

The revelations came amid allegations that the liaison office had interfered in the city’s polls by dissuading some pro-establishment candidates from running.

Over the weekend, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen called such lobbying normal. “The baseline is [lobbyists] must not break any electoral law, which says it’s a criminal offence to affect someone’s candidature by bribery, force, duress,” he said.

But Lau said the liaison office’s exchanges with Beijing loyalists underlined the central government’s worries.

“The localists and even moderate pan-democrats are unpredictable in Beijing’s eyes ... and they want someone capable to take charge,” Lau said. “But this is problematic as it shows Beijing is trying to meddle in Hong Kong.”