Vice-president Li Yuanchao has called on Hong Kong's district councillors to take an active part in an ongoing public consultation on electoral reform, at a face-to-face meeting in Beijing.
Li also reiterated the central leadership's support for the city to attain universal suffrage according to the Basic Law and a decision made by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
He spoke to a visiting group of more than 40 district councillors at a session that lawmakers described as laying the groundwork for district councils to back an upcoming reform proposal from the government.
"We hope our district councillors will perform their duties well, support the SAR government in the public consultation and take part actively in it, and forge a consensus so as to realise universal suffrage," Li said at the start of the hour-long talk, of which the first five minutes were open to the media.
The delegation, led by Tuen Mun District Council chairman Lau Wong-fat, is on a four-day trip that will end on Sunday. Accompanying the group is Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing.
Last month, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor showed her determination to strive for district-level support by meeting the chairmen and deputies of the 18 district councils to elaborate on the administration's consultation document.
Lam's move was consistent with the government's approach in previous electoral-reform exercises, in which it mobilised district councils to endorse the official proposal although these bodies had no lawmaking powers.
Li said the district council was an important constituent of Hong Kong's political system, and was helpful in serving the public and reflecting their views.
He restated the much-recited line taken by Beijing, that it supported Hong Kong in attaining universal suffrage by sticking to the city's mini-constitution and following an NPC Standing Committee decision.
The standing committee ruled in 2007 that in 2017, Hong Kong's chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage.
Tsang said Li told them that Hong Kong could grasp opportunities made available by new reforms, "like more than 20 years ago at the 11th third plenum".
He said the vice-president encouraged district councils to perform their duties because they were "close to the people and their views".
Democratic Party vice-chairman and lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said the high-profile meeting sought to ensure district councils would back official reform plans.
"I believe the Beijing officials' talk with the district council chiefs is to mobilise the pro-government camp to support the government's proposal," he said.
Beijing loyalist Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, also acknowledged the session was a mobilisation effort. "The mobilisation reflects Beijing's sincerity in implementing universal suffrage, which is a common goal shared by all," Tam said.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office hosted a dinner last night. The delegation will meet representatives of the Basic Law Committee today before visiting neighbouring Tianjin .
The city has 507 councillor seats across the 18 councils. The pro-establishment camp dominates all the councils by occupying more than half the seats, while pan-democrats take up at least 80 seats. The DAB was the biggest winner in the November 2011 district council polls.