Hong Kong lawmaker Michael Tien says overly close ties with Beijing prompted departure from New People’s Party

Original party practice to maintain distance with central government was not observed, he adds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 8:04pm

Hong Kong lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said on Tuesday that the close relationship between New People’s Party and Beijing officials was one of the reasons behind his departure from the pro-establishment political group.

Elaborating on his resignation on Monday, Tien, the party’s vice-chairman, said the frequent appearance of the central government’s liaison office officials at party events, had betrayed an original agreement by members to maintain an “appropriate distance” with the office.

Tien quit along with six district councillors close to him – amid a widening rift with chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. The move is set to weaken the party’s clout in the legislature, throwing its immediate future in doubt.

“When the party was founded, we all agreed not to invite officials from the central government’s liaison office to party celebrations,” Tien said. But the practice was not observed and the situation got worse, he added.

He said it was “strange” for Ip to read out a congratulatory letter from a state leader recently for the party’s founding anniversary.

Tien also said that while it was acceptable for him to meet with Beijing representatives once a week as a delegate to the National People’s Congress, as a lawmaker it was necessary to maintain a proper distance with them to better monitor the local government.

“As a lawmaker, even one visit every six months is too much,” he said.

In January, Tien launched a thinly-veiled attack on the office, complaining that the chief executive race had “lost its shape” due to increasing “interference” by an “invisible hand”. But Ip has been reluctant to criticise the office.

Tien said he had faced “great pressure” to back all government plans along with other party members since Ip was invited to join the local government’s executive council, an advisory body to the chief executive.

“My departure is good for the future of New People’s Party. It has made the party’s stance clearer,” he said.

By quitting the party, Tien said he could finally be himself and pursue his original intention of monitoring the government.

But Tien stressed his departure did not mean a fundamental change in his stance, as he was still patriotic.

Ip rebutted on Monday the suggestions that Tien’s departure had anything to do with her attitude towards Beijing’s representatives, saying he should be even more loyal to the country as he was a delegate to the National People’s Congress. She added that Tien knew more mainland officials than she did.

Ip said his decision was a “pity” and she could fully understand that every man wants some space”.

Tien’s decision shrinks the party’s presence in the Legislative Council, with only two lawmakers to represent it – Ip herself and political novice Eunice Yung Hoi-yan.

It is seen as a bitter blow to Ip, who was earlier denied support from her traditional pro-Beijing allies for her chief executive bid. Instead, most of the pro-establishment forces in the Election Committee backed Beijing’s preferred choice, former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.