A top mainland official yesterday set the tone for the debate over Hong Kong's political reform by declaring that any members from the opposition camp who insist on confronting the central government cannot become the city's chief executive.
Despite declaring Beijing's "unswerving" commitment to universal suffrage by 2017, Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee under the National People's Congress, also dropped the most significant hint so far about a screening mechanism being introduced ahead of the chief executive poll in 2017.
Qiao made the remarks in a closed-door seminar on the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, attended by almost 40 pro-establishment lawmakers in Shenzhen yesterday.
In the meeting - attended by the director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Wang Guangya, and the director of the liaison office in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming - Qiao said the central government insisted that it was committed to Hong Kong achieving universal suffrage by 2017 in accordance with the Basic law.
It was "also unswerving that chief executive candidates must be persons who love the country and love Hong Kong, while the methods in the universal suffrage must match with the Basic Law and the decisions by the NPC Standing Committee", he said.
In a rare elaboration, Qiao admitted it would be difficult to write into law criteria for the "love country, love Hong Kong" notion, but those "who confront the central government" would fail to qualify, he said. This would be decided in three steps. "Firstly, the nomination committee will decide. Then the voters in Hong Kong will decide. Lastly, the central government will decide whether to appoint [the candidate] or not. Every person has a scale in their hearts," Qiao said.
He then referred to the opposition camp, an apparent reference to pan-democrats, and ruled them out of the race.
"As long as they insist on confronting the central government, they cannot become the chief executive," he said. "One day, when they give up going against the central government, and prove by their actions they will not harm the interests of the country and Hong Kong, the door is open for them."
A lawmaker who attended the meeting said Qiao cited at least one article written by former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who stood against Leung Chun-ying for chief executive in 2012. In an article published in a Chinese-language newspaper, Ho called for an end to one-party rule.
Qiao said candidates had to be nominated by a newly formed nominating committee "as a whole", instead of by individual committee members, as in previous chief executive elections.
Pan-democrats said Qiao's explanation paved the way for a screening mechanism ahead of the chief executive poll.
What Qiao Xiaoyang Said
On the pro-democracy camp:
As long as they insist on confronting the central government, they cannot become the chief executive. One day when they give up going against the central government, and prove by their actions they will not harm the interests of the country and Hong Kong, the door is open for them to become the chief executive.
On the reasons for not accepting a chief executive candidate who confronts the central government:
If a person who confronts the central government becomes the chief executive, it can be expected that the tension between the two governments will be heightened, the close connection between Hong Kong and the mainland will be damaged, and that Hong Kong society will be torn apart.
On how to judge suitable candidates:
Firstly, the nomination committee will decide. Then the voters in Hong Kong will decide. Lastly, the central government will decide whether to appoint [the candidate] or not. Every person has a scale in their hearts.