Beijing confirms olive branch on travel permits for Hong Kong pan-democrats
Hong Kong government says Beijing has notified it about the relaxation of restrictions on home visit permits, which have seen pan-democrats barred from mainland China
The Hong Kong government officially confirmed the offer of an olive branch from Beijing to the pan-democrats on Wednesday night, saying it had been informed that opposition politicians banned from entering the mainland would be granted the necessary travel documents from now on.
The government said it had been notified by Beijing that “the entry restrictions imposed on certain Legislative Council members and other persons on entering the Mainland of China have been relaxed from today onwards”. Beijing would now accept their applications for permits, it added.
That was after the pan-democrats questioned the credibility of the offer, outraged that the first confirmation came from one of their fiercest critics instead of being relayed directly to them.
After the news was first revealed by multiple sources on Tuesday night, a concrete corroboration came on Wednesday from Robert Chow Yung, convenor of the pro-establishment group Silent Majority for Hong Kong, after a meeting in Beijing with Wang Guangya, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
“He hopes they can visit the mainland for the purposes of travelling or visiting relatives, as well as to have different modes of exchange to increase their understanding of the mainland,” Chow said.
Complaining that Beijing should have made an official announcement in the first place if it was sincere about the offer, the pan-democrats said they would not apply for home-return permits, which are required of Hong Kong permanent identity card holders of Chinese descent to enter the mainland.
At least three pan-democrat lawmakers have 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 the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre.
All three made it clear they would not apply for permits, with Leung Yiu-chung seeing it as a two-pronged strategy by Beijing to break the ice with opposition lawmakers while cracking down hard on independence advocacy.
“I also found it very strange that Chow was informed before the local government. It seems Beijing has downgraded the local government,” Leung Yiu-chung said.
“If officials would like to talk about relaunching the city’s political reform, I would go anytime, even this afternoon, but there is no need for another sightseeing trip,” To said.
Earlier, hours before Chow spoke to the media, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying declined to confirm if he had been notified by Beijing about its decision. He would only say he had been “working hard to advocate that the central government promptly allow our pan-democrat friends [to visit the mainland]”.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said she had not been informed by Beijing about the news. She saw it as a gesture to the pan-democrats that “if you are not [advocating independence] there is no reason why there should be no communication [between us]”.
Student activist turned legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who had his permit revoked when he tried to visit Beijing for a protest in 2014, also rejected the offer.