Chief executive election 2017
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Zhang Dejiang (centre) sent a strong signal about backing Carrie Lam in the leadership race. Photo: AFP

Two Chinese state leaders reveal Beijing’s backing for Carrie Lam as Hong Kong leader in Shenzhen meetings

Decision to back Lam was made at a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee on December 25, according to a source

Two Chinese state leaders were in Shenzhen earlier this week to inform Hong Kong’s Beijing loyalists of the decision made over Christmas by the Communist Party’s highest body to back Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the chief executive election.
Amid speculation that Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong does not represent the stance of the central government, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, told leaders of business chambers and pro-establishment figures that Lam was indeed Beijing’s preferred candidate for the top job, according to a source with know­ledge of the meetings on Sunday and Monday.

“The decision was made at the meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee on December 25,” the source said.

Another source familiar with the situation said Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, was present at the meetings

The tycoon and representatives of his companies were conspicuously absent from Lam’s election rally last Friday.

Li and his sons, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi and Richard Li Tzar-kai, were spotted visiting Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Zhang Dejiang gave Carrie Lam a significant boost when he met Beijing loyalists in Shenzhen. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Zhang, the third-ranking ­leader in the Politburo, is head of the Communist Party’s leading group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Sun Chunlan, a Politburo member and head of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, joined Zhang for the meetings.

“Zhang and Sun travelled to Shenzhen to convey the central government’s collective decision to Hong Kong’s business leaders and pro-establishment heavyweights to highlight it is not the position of any individual mainland officials,” the source said.

The central government made the unusual move as it was aware that the credibility of the liaison office had been undermined in the wake of some last-minute changes of heart by Beijing in ­recent years, the source said.

Many pro-establishment politicians were caught off guard in 2010 by a Beijing U-turn to adopt the Democratic Party’s idea of ­allowing 3.2 million voters who do not hold a vote in a functional constituency to elect five “super-seat” lawmakers in the 2012 Legislative Council elections.

In the early stage of the 2012 chief executive election, the liaison office was understood to have told some pro-establishment figures to back former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen.

Tang was the early front runner in the race but his campaign was derailed following the revelation that he had a large illegal basement in his luxury home.

Shortly before the election, then state councillor Liu Yandong summoned Election Committee members who originally supported Tang to Shenzhen .

The state leader urged the committee members to vote for rival candidate Leung Chun-ying to ensure his victory with a relatively comfortable margin. Leung defeated Tang by 689 votes to 285.

Reports by pro-Beijing newspapers about the Shenzhen ­meetings this time were conspicuously absent.

A source familiar with the ­situation said they did not report on the meetings because of the need to leave some room to ­manoeuvre and “strategic ambiguity” for Beijing in the event of any unexpected development in the chief executive race.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing had stated its preference for Lam at such an early stage to prevent the worst-case scenario that neither Lam nor arch-rival John Tsang Chun-wah could muster more than 601 votes from members of the Election Committee to become the next chief executive.

“The scenario may come true if Beijing stays neutral and allows a free run,” Lau said.