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Lawmakers speak at the liaison office. Photo: Dickson Lee

Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers get tea and sympathy from Beijing's top man after botched walkout

Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong last night hailed pro-establishment lawmakers’ support for the electoral reform package and did not take them to task for the botched walkout before the vote last week.

The news emerged from a “tea gathering” for 40 Beijing loyalists that also saw an unusually warm reception for the media pack. Journalists were allowed into the building in Western district in an unprecedented move, as mainland officials also offered a surprise olive branch to the pan-democrats.

Veteran Beijing loyalist Tam Yiu-chung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong quoted office director Zhang Xiaoming as saying the central government would invite lawmakers to attend a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.

The parade is scheduled for September 3 in the capital.

“The central government will also invite representatives from different sectors in Hong Kong, including lawmakers, to inspect the development opportunities arising from the country’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategic initiative,” Tam said.

This offer was seen as an effort to reach out to the pan-democrats after they voted against the Beijing-decreed blueprint for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said they had had “frank exchanges” with Zhang and the discussion proceeded in a “cosy atmosphere”.

Zhang's speech was uploaded onto the office's website. In it, he thanked pro-establishment lawmakers for their "hard work and stress" and said the universal suffrage issue was one of the "most lengthy, most controversial, most challenging and most difficult" task in post-handover Hong Kong. 

The "accident arising from Legco's voting", Zhang said, would not change the "fact that ... pro-establishment lawmakers are still the important constructive force for HKSAR to correctly implement one country two systems and the Basic Law". 

"Although accidents arose from the voting process of the universal suffrage resolution and the lesson is worth learning, the concerted efforts from all sides have yielded generally positive and conducive effect on the work of political reform, with long-lasting impact," Zhang said. 

He added that as the political reform debate came to an end, Hong Kong should leave aside political arguments and "focus effort on developing the economy, improving the livelihood and facilitating harmony". 

He ended the speech by citing the lyrics of Below The Lion Rock, by late pop singer Roman Tam, a favourite of many older Hongkongers, to call for differences to be put aside for the pursuit of ideals. 

It was their first meeting with Beijing’s point man in the city since their walkout from the legislature last Thursday – seconds before the historic vote – which led to a crushing 28-8 defeat for the reform package.

But the gathering’s expected focus last night on the camp’s blunder was overshadowed just hours earlier by leaked Whats8App messages that circulated ahead of the botched vote.

Rural kingpin Lau Wong-fat  – on whose tardiness the walkout was initially blamed – and Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun  – whose party stayed to vote – did not attend.

A totally unexpected development was the unprecedented media access to a building usually cloaked in mystery. At around 10pm journalists were allowed into the lobby after strict security checks, and given water and biscuits while waiting for the meeting upstairs to finish.

They reported that the lobby was simple, simply decorated, with only tropical plants and traditional Chinese paintings.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tea and sympathy from liaison office