Hong Kong pan-democrats cast doubt on Xi’s softer approach to talks with political opponents

President says central government ready to talk to anyone regardless of their political views so long as they love the country and Hong Kong and back the Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 5:33pm

Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers remain sceptical over the possibility of building a healthy relationship with Beijing after President Xi Jinping said the central government was ready to talk to anyone regardless of their political views.

While upholding his firm stance over national security, Xi adopted a softer approach at the end of his speech in Hong Kong after swearing in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her cabinet. He hinted a dialogue with pan-democrats was possible as long as they “love the country and Hong Kong”.

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“Hong Kong is a plural society. So it comes as no surprise that there are different views and even major differences on some specific issues. However, making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems,” Xi said.

“On the part of the central government, we are ready to talk to anyone who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, no matter what political views or position he or she may hold.”

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“Taking into account the larger interests” and building more consensus was the best way to solve problems, he added.

His remarks came a day after two pan-democrats – Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai and Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok – had a 15-minute meeting with Huang Liuquan, the deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, in which they reiterated their calls for democracy.

But Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said he would not easily take Xi’s remarks as an “olive branch” as he said National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang had previously made similar remarks.

Zhang had said last year that Beijing was willing to continue the dialogue with pan-democrats.

“Such a message coming from Xi of course has its significance and weight, but actions speak for everything,” Yeung said. “I do not think we should entertain too many unnecessary fantasies right now.”

Focusing on economic development will eventually turn Hong Kong into just another Chinese city
Wu Chi-wai, Democratic Party

Yeung hoped Lam could ditch her predecessor’s combative style of governance and improve the government’s relations with pan-democrats. That, he said, would help lay the foundation for better relations between Beijing and his camp.

Democrat Wu Chi-wai also said it remained uncertain whether the central government would indeed open itself up to different views.

Wu also expressed disappointment with Xi’s speech, as he said the president had focused on the importance of one country and the city’s economic development, but failed to elaborate on how to respect the two systems.

“Merely focusing on economic development will eventually turn Hong Kong into just another Chinese city that lacks the characteristics of two systems,” Wu said. “It is the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys that make it a civilised city.”