Hong Kong’s mainland affairs chief accused of ‘one country, two systems’ breach over by-elections
Patrick Nip said he ‘reported and discussed’ the administration’s plans for the polls, to fill seats of disqualified legislators, whilst in Beijing
The Hong Kong government’s top man on mainland affairs has been accused of violating the conditions of the city’s relationship with Beijing by discussing the local government’s plans for upcoming legislative by-elections whilst in the capital.
At the end of a trip to Beijing, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said he had met officials from across the central government, including the deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Huang Liuquan and deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Li Fei.
He said he had discussed the government’s plans for the upcoming by-elections, to contest the seats previously held by six elected lawmakers booted from the Legislative Council chamber for badly taken oaths.
“Regarding the work of the constitutional and mainland affairs bureau, including the by-election [arrangements], I have reported and discussed the stance and the plans of the SAR government with the relevant [mainland] ministries,” he said.
No date has been set for the polls, which would usually take place within six months of a seat being vacated. The government has said it will wait for legal proceedings, including possible appeals, over the disqualifications to be concluded before setting a date.
The pro-democracy camp sees the plans for the polls as a political issue, and has demanded the government hold two rounds of by-elections – one for the two seats vacated by Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching last year and another for the seats formerly occupied by “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim this year.
That is because the bloc’s members claim they would lose two seats under proportional representation, given there are two vacancies each in Kowloon West and New Territories East.
The ousted six are all from the pro-democracy camp.
Political commentators said Nip had crossed a line by discussing the arrangements with Beijing.
“It has violated the principle of ‘one country two systems’,” Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said, referring to the city’s governing formula, under which it retains semi-autonomy under Chinese rule. “The by-election arrangements are manifestly internal affairs of Hong Kong and I cannot see the necessity to discuss them with the mainland side.”
But he said the apparent revelation could have been a slip of the tongue as Nip was new in the post.
Nip’s press secretary clarified that Nip’s choice of the word “reported” may have been misleading, saying the meeting had just been a normal exchange with Huang on the bureau’s work.
She said Nip only briefly talked about the by-elections along with other work, without seeking advice from the central government.
Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu agreed with Ma that the by-elections were internal local affairs that Beijing should not interfere with. He believed the gaffe would add to public fears over mainland involvement in Hong Kong business.
On Wednesday Nip also said he would help promote understanding and communication between the various political parties and the Beijing government.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier said she would like to invite all legislators to visit the mainland. But she added that could not happen in the near future due to the disqualification saga.