Scholars say Beijing should now play bigger role in helping to mend social divide in Hong Kong

Mainland professor calls for greater respect of Hong Kong’s autonomy and laws following Carrie Lam’s victory

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 7:08pm

Beijing should now play a bigger role in helping to mend the social divide in Hong Kong, following the election of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, mainland scholars have said.

The election on Sunday was a race closely watched by Beijing – the official news wire Xinhua reported Lam’s victory before Hong Kong’s official announcement of the result, saying she had already received more than 600 votes. A speech by the spokesperson of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office was delivered in the early afternoon, congratulating Lam and praising her for meeting Beijing’s standards set for the city’s next leader; patriotism, trust by the central government, capability to govern, and support in the city.

Despite Lam’s victory – winning close to two thirds of all votes from the 1,200-member election committee – it is agreed by many that mending the city’s political divide would be a thorny issue for the next leader.

‘The work of uniting society begins now’: Carrie Lam pledges to heal Hong Kong’s divide

Immediately after Lam’s victory, she promised to “heal the social divide” and “unite our society to move forward”, an arduous task which some mainland legal experts argue could be shared by the central government.

The central government could help sooth anti-Beijing sentiment in the city by eliminating non-official involvement in Hong Kong, Tian Feilong, an associate law professor with Beihang University in Beijing, said.

“Beijing should pay more respect to the city’s autonomy by using only legal means to govern the city, like having the National People’s Congress to interpret the Basic Law, and avoid law enforcement similar to the case of Lee Po,” Tian said.

Causeway Bay bookseller Lee Po vanished from Hong Kong in December 2015 and later surfaced on the mainland before returning to Hong Kong. He claimed that he had gone to the mainland to assist in a police investigation, but the case of Lee and a handful of his colleagues fuelled fears in the city that mainland law-enforcers had abducted him .

Tian also argued that Beijing could help bridge the gap between Lam and pan-democrats by including them in political advisory roles on the mainland.

“Moderate democrats could be invited to join the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or organisations related to the Belt and Road Initiative, based on their different expertise,” Tian said. “It’s important to let them transcend the mere role of opposition in the city, and feel respected and recognised by the country as professionals ... There’s a strong anti-Beijing sentiment among the city’s professional elites, the composition of the Election Committee says it all.”

Will Hong Kong pan-democrats deign to interact with chief executive-elect Carrie Lam?

The city’s pan-democrats took up a record high of a quarter of all seats in the election committee last year. Pan-democratic candidates won all the seats in the higher education subsector, and landslide victories in the accountancy and architectural subsectors, securing at least half of the seats in the engineering and medical subsectors.

Beijing could also take the advice of former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing’s last year to establish a channel for regular communication between the central government and pan-democrats, Tian said, on top of keeping the promise of granting some members of the pan-democratic camp access to the mainland.

The city’s government confirmed in November that it had been informed that opposition politicians whose home-return permits were revoked would now be granted the documents required to enter the mainland.

Zou Pingxue, director of the Centre for Basic Law studies at Shenzhen, said Beijing could encourage visits by the pan-democrats to make them feel more included.

“The pan-democrats probably would not care too much but Beijing should welcome them to visit mainland, so they’ll have a better understanding of the country. The whole world is learning about how to deal with China and the Communist Party.”

“Beijing should put forward policies that would further facilitate Hong Kong residents to work, study and receive social welfare on the mainland, instead of treating them like foreigners,” said Zou. “And I think such rights shall surely be enjoyed by the pan-democrats, too.”