Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is seeking to cool controversy over his think-tank chief's remark that Hong Kong should accept Beijing's involvement in the city's affairs.
Leung yesterday insisted that the government alone was responsible for lobbying lawmakers on policy issues and underlined the Special Administrative Region's high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law.
He was speaking amid an outcry from pan-democrats after the Central Policy Unit head Shiu Sin-por said on Monday that the central government liaison office's influence on lawmakers was "a reality".
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen also weighed in, saying that Shiu's remarks - on which he did not comment directly - "usually had a strong personal flavour".
The liaison office came under fire after lawmakers revealed they had received calls from its officials about their stance in a vote on whether the Legislative Council should probe the government's decision on free-to-air television licensing.
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing yesterday urged Shiu to apologise for his "ridiculous" comments. "The liaison office is definitely intervening in the city's internal affairs and has destroyed the one country, two systems [principle] and Hong Kong's high autonomy."
The Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said he was surprised Shiu would try to publicly justify the unconstitutional move. "If Beijing finds that Hong Kong has failed to achieve effective governance, it should fire Leung, not intervene in Legco."
Shiu, a Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee delegate, said in Beijing on Monday that it was "impossible" for the liaison office not to care about the city's elections and that "Hongkongers should accept that".
Returning to the theme yesterday, Shiu said liaison officials "need to care, but there are also a lot of things related to them in which they have a role to play". He also said universal suffrage was unlikely to bring Hong Kong more harmony.
"Asian people don't like to admit defeat," he said, adding that this was seen in the 2012 election that divided supporters of Leung-Chun-ying and defeated rival Henry Tang Ying-yen.
"If all people are allowed to vote in 2017 … the problem will only get worse. Imagine if there are three or four candidates in a tight contest. There will be more noise and confusion."