Despite a call for a mass boycott from allies, at least seven pan-democratic lawmakers attended a spring reception hosted by the central government's liaison office last night.
In an unprecedented move, all 27 pan-democrat lawmakers were invited after members of the bloc met the liaison office's head at a Legislative Council lunch in July. Political observers suggest the gesture is meant to show Beijing's openness to discussing how elections in the city can be reformed.
But pan-democrats attending questioned such openness, noting that liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming , in his speech, reiterated that Beijing remained "strongly against" any reform idea that "deviates" from the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, asked if his presence meant a breakthrough in ties with Beijing, said: "Does it look like it?"
Leong's party colleagues, Ronny Tong Ka-wah and legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, also turned up, though Kwok said he was there only to "say hello".
"I always welcome communication [with Beijing] … but I hope it would be an occasion at which all parties can communicate," he said. "At [receptions] you just can't discuss anything in detail."
The Democratic Party's Sin Chung-kai, the education sector's Ip Kin-yuen and Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood were also among the hundreds of guests at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Rounding up the seven was "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats - who was asked to leave after shouting for the release of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and rights advocate Xu Zhiyong . He also chanted slogans to "end one-party rule".
At a separate event, a core pan-democratic member claimed that Tong's electoral reform proposal - considered the most likely to be accepted - had failed to get past Beijing.
"My understanding from various channels is Beijing has already rejected Tong's proposal. It had been considered by top Beijing officials," he said - then drew his hand across his throat.
In October, Tong suggested focusing on making the nominating committee, which approves chief executive candidates, more representative.
Tong said last night that he would continue pushing for it despite the bleak prospects.
Beijing loyalist Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said Tong's proposal had a "fatal flaw", in including all popularly elected district councillors in the committee. That would violate the principle of balanced participation by four sectors - commercial, professional, social and political - on the election committee, she said.