Beijing expected to grant permanent home-return permits to current and former Hong Kong pan-democrats

Beijing might be adopting a two-pronged approach – cracking down hard on independence advocates, while being cordial with conventional pan-democrats

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 1:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 3:39am

The central government will announce as early as Wednesday that all pan-democrats who failed to renew their home-return permits, including former and incumbent lawmakers, will be granted permanent permits in a conciliatory gesture to those at odds with Beijing for more than two decades.

News of the move emerged late Tuesday evening, as the South China Morning Post learned from multiple sources that an announcement will be made in a day or two.

Home-return permits are required by Hongkongers to enter the mainland. They are issued to Hong Kong permanent identity card holders.

The offer will cover all current and former legislators, and even district councillors who had failed to renew their permits previously.

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At least three lawmakers had been unable to renew their permits for more than a decade: Democrat James To Kun-sun, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats and Leung Yiu-chung of Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre.

The exclusion was due to their pro-democracy stance and ties to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a pro-democratic organisation established in May 1989 to support student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The trio were among a list of pan-democrats with expired home-return permits spanning decades with no hope of renewal due to sanctions from Beijijng after the Tiananmen crackdown.

Leung Kwok-hung said: “I haven’t heard [the news]... I will only think about [applying] after it’s announced.”

To was defiant, saying: “This is my legitimate right as a Chinese national to own a permit. It is right and proper to give it back to me.”

He said Beijing was just trying to rectify its longstanding mistakes, and there was no reason to be thankful for it.

A pan-democrat told the Post that Beijing might be adopting a two-pronged approach – cracking down hard on independence advocates, while being cordial with conventional pan-democrats.

Cheung Man-Kwong, a former Democratic Party member who has been denied entry to the mainland since 1989, said: “I will apply for a permit if other fellow pan-democrats are also granted permanent home-return permits.”

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Cheung is also a standing committee member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Democrats of China, which Beijing views as subversive.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a lawmaker from Demosisto advocating Hong Kong’s self-determination, had his permit revoked when he and other student activists attempted to travel to Beijing to petition in November 2014.

It remains unclear if Law will be granted a permit if he lodges an application.

Beijing’s expected gesture comes after earlier hints this year. In May, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, met lawmakers including four pan-democrats in a visit to the city.

Zhang had said the permit issue “will be resolved one day.”

In June, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Wang Guangya echoed similar views by extending an olive branch to pan-democrats. Wang had said authorities were actively resolving “some problems” involving pan-democrats and the mainland.

He did not give details, but it was widely understood in political circles to be the issuance of home-return permits.

Previously, pan-democratic lawmakers who had no permits were offered one-off grants to visit the mainland for arranged political events.