Why fun is well and truly over for Hong Kong delegates attending ‘two sessions’ in Beijing

Gone are the good old days when some took advantage of the annual event to cultivate personal business, political and social contacts with the who’s who of the nation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 8:20pm

No pain, no gain, the old saying goes, and it applies to politics as well.

Somehow, it seems to have taken 20 years for Beijing to drive home the message for a group of political figures from Hong Kong who are now finally realising that being bestowed with certain honours means getting down to serious business and not just showing off titles.

It may be a hard pill to swallow for the group, but it’s something to be expected under President Xi Jinping’s powerful leadership.

As China’s most important annual political event – the March “two sessions” of the national legislature and top political advisory body – is in full swing, all eyes are on the constitution being changed to scrap the two-term limit on the presidency.

What many may have missed is an interesting episode in the capital last week concerning new discipline for the group from Hong Kong.

In this annual gathering of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), delegates from the city are also up north to participate in major policymaking for the country. The 36 local NPC delegates and more than 100 CPPCC members are there for more than two weeks of key meetings and group discussions.

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While they are all adults and considered the elite representing Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp, they were given a gentle but firm “disciplinary reminder”. They would need to ask for permission to take leave if unable to attend any meeting, and also inform the delegation chief and seek prior approval when leaving their hotel for any personal activity – many smaller group discussions use the hotel they are staying in as the meeting venue.

To ensure they took it seriously, the new rule was officially announced by NPC deputy secretary general Wang Chen.

It may seem amusing on one level, but the message is strong and crystal clear: gone are the good old days when some Hong Kong delegates took advantage of this annual event to cultivate personal business, political and social contacts as the who’s who of the nation gather in one place.

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It used to be common for certain Hong Kong delegates and members to skip meetings for private appointments after the opening of the two sessions.

It was said that in one extreme case in a previous year, a Hong Kong member clocked up a total of only four hours in meetings over an entire two-week period.

Such conduct is obviously no longer acceptable. So, not only are lavish dinners or gifts for mainland officials and other contacts banned while Hong Kong delegates and members are in Beijing, they are also reminded of the duties they must fulfil – study the documents on hand and be more proactive in speaking up on matters of national interest and security when they return home, instead of turning invisible or keeping a low profile when major controversies break out.

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This explains why Zhao Leji and Wang Huning, two members of the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee, joined Hong Kong NPC and CPPCC discussions respectively to brief them on Beijing’s latest policy for the city as well as constitutional changes – two major issues on which not all Hongkongers can see eye to eye with Beijing.

It’s not going to be an easy job, but Beijing has made it clear it’s something people in this particular group will have to do if they want to keep their titles and privileges.

An immediate test this time is how to explain to Hongkongers and have them on board with Beijing’s reasons for scrapping the presidential term limit.

It should be interesting to see how Hong Kong’s political atmosphere develops when Beijing is pushing for its voice to be heard louder and clearer.