The central government's liaison office in Hong Kong has responded positively to the idea of helping pan-democratic lawmakers get back their home-return permits, Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said yesterday.
The move comes ahead of a visit to Shanghai next month for all 70 lawmakers, proposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with Beijing's backing.
At least five pan-democrats - Emily Lau Wai-hing, Albert Ho Chun-yan, Lee Cheuk-yan, James To Kun-sun and Leung Kwok-hung - do not have the permits. Without them they cannot visit the mainland unless they have one-off permission.
Tsang said: "Officials from the liaison office in Hong Kong have given a positive response to the idea. But they said issuance of home-return permits involves other mainland departments.
"Unfortunately, the question of issuing permanent home-return permits can't be resolved ahead of the trip to Shanghai."
Leung wrote on his blog yesterday that he would continue to relay lawmakers' calls to be reissued with home-return permits, with the hope of resolving the problem as soon as possible.
Pan-democratic lawmakers warned they would not join the trip to Shanghai unless authorities clarified whether they would discuss political reform, and which Beijing officials would talk with them.
Their warning came hours after Tsang called for lawmakers to "treasure" the opportunity to visit Shanghai.
David Wong Yau-kar, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, called on the central government to build trust with pan-democrats. That included granting them home-return permits, he said.
"There should be a greater tolerance for pan-democrats in the [political] system, such as stepping up appointments to the various statutory bodies to give them more chances of political participation," Wong said in Beijing.
Wong's suggestion received a lukewarm response.
Cheung Man-kwong, a core member of the Democratic Party and a former lawmaker, said the permits issue should be treated separately from political reform.
He chose not to renew his permit after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989.
"It is my right to travel to the mainland. It might be a friendly gesture by Beijing [to grant the permits], but I would not be grateful about that," he said.
"And lawmakers must decide their voting preference on reform based on Hongkongers' wishes, not on whether they can travel to the mainland."
Cheung joined two one-off trips to the mainland with Legco colleagues while in office.
Cheng Yiu-tong, a fellow NPC deputy and executive councillor, has also vowed to help pan-democrats get back their permits.
Emily Lau, the Democratic Party's chairwoman, has declined the invitation to Shanghai, and at least seven lawmakers from the Labour Party and NeoDemocrats, as well as independent Wong Yuk-man and the Civic Party's Claudia Mo Man-ching, have said they may boycott the trip.
Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah is the only pan-democrat to have agreed to join the tour so far.
After the pan-democrats' weekly meeting yesterday, lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee said the camp had yet to come up with a decision about the trip. They will meet again on Tuesday.