A trip by Hong Kong lawmakers to Shanghai to meet state officials got off to a disastrous start yesterday, with three pan-democrats including "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung deciding to turn back soon after they arrived.
The remaining 11 pan-democrats decided to stay for the talks on political reform.
Leung, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, secured a last-minute ticket and returned to Hong Kong last night.
He had arrived in Shanghai wearing a T-shirt bearing words in support of Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed by mothers whose children died in the 1989 crackdown.
Customs officers searched his luggage as he waited in a VIP lounge at the airport with the rest of the Hong Kong party.
He was then asked to surrender items he was carrying, including leaflets about the crackdown, several T-shirts with related slogans and a book on the Communist Party that is banned on the mainland. But Leung refused.
Other lawmakers attempted to mediate and Legco Secretariat staff sought help from the Hong Kong trade office in Shanghai.
After a stand-off of about 20 minutes, Leung decided to boycott the meeting and return to Hong Kong.
He boarded a flight back last night, according to Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and fellow pan-democrat Charles Mok, who both witnessed the confrontation.
The Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan and Peter Cheung Kwok-che also decided to return this morning in support of Leung.
But others from the pan-democratic camp decided to proceed with the trip.
Leung, who is usually barred from visiting the mainland, was among a group of 24 legislative councillors who arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport at 8.30pm.
The delegation is scheduled to meet state officials tomorrow to discuss electoral reform in Hong Kong, and Legco chief Tsang said he hoped the dispute would not affect the dialogue.
"It is regrettable and is a pity … I hope the incident won't seriously affect the way the visit is being conducted," Tsang said.
Moderate pan-democrat Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, said the incident had increased tensions between the pan-democrats and Beijing, but he and 10 others from the camp would remain.
"The main goal of this trip is to discuss the political reform with Beijing officials, which would be the first time in over 10 years … We treasure this opportunity …," Fung said.