An Executive Council member and a Beijing source have justified the role the central government's liaison office played in the defeat of an effort by lawmakers to investigate the decision to deny independent HKTV a free-to-air television licence.
Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, a non-official Exco member, said the liaison office was entitled to weigh in - despite the Basic Law's prohibition on Beijing interfering in - as lawmakers' actions could "impact the Exco system".
Pro-establishment lawmakers admitted being approached by the office, with one, Paul Tse Wai-chun, dropping his promised support at the last minute. Pan-democrats said the move showed a blatant disregard for Hong Kong's autonomy.
Several lawmakers confirmed the lobbying ahead of Thursday's vote, in which a bid launched by pan-democrats to invoke the Legislative Council's special powers to probe the Exco decision to approve only two TV licence applications, leaving out HKTV, was defeated.
Confirmation of the liaison office's lobbying led some politicians to suggest the office plays an active behind-the-scenes role in local politics.
Article 22 of the Basic Law states: "No department of the Central People's Government… may interfere in the affairs which [HKSAR] administers on its own." But Law offered a different view yesterday.
"The liaison office ... has a responsibility to safeguard the Basic Law and 'one country, two systems'. Legco's attempt ... to investigate [the decision] impacted the Exco system," she said. "[Liaison officers] think it involves certain constitutional questions and so they got involved. But it does not mean every issue will have [them] involved or intervening."
Like Law, a Beijing source also described it as "normal" for Beijing representatives to communicate with lawmakers, as the investigation bid was "linked to the implementation of the Basic Law and preservation of the city's political system".
The Beijing source said: "Aren't the contacts between lawmakers and the office more normal than the exchanges between some other legislators with Taiwan-independence advocates and foreign consulates?" Three pan-democrats recently met Taiwanese opposition figure Shih Ming-teh.
Politics professor Ma Ngok, of Chinese University, said Law's comments were "ridiculous".
"If Law's stance made sense, then the liaison office could freely interpret what is meant by an 'impact to the system'," he said.
Three pan-democratic parties yesterday staged a protest outside the liaison office.