Hong Kong localism and independence

New liaison office chief in Hong Kong reaches out to opposition pan-democrats

Wang Zhimin promises to engage with various sectors of society, but maintains firm stance against advocating Hong Kong independence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 11:28pm

The new head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong has pledged to reach out to “friends” from all sectors of the community, including the opposition pan-democratic camp, while warning that advocating independence for the city will not be tolerated.

Wang Zhimin, who took up the post a week ago, also praised Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for “bringing a good atmosphere and new hopes” to the city.

“Liaising widely with different sectors of the society has always been one of the office’s major responsibilities,” Wang said at a national day reception for the local media on Friday in his first public address in his new role.

“We have been doing this, and we will keep doing it in the future. That also includes reaching out to friends from different sectors in the community, including the pan-democrats.”

Wang’s predecessor, Zhang Xiaoming, now director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, was known for his tough stance against critics and considered a hardliner by the pan-democrats. Opposition politicians have accused his office of interfering in local affairs over the last few years by lobbying lawmakers for the administration, coordinating the pro-Beijing camp’s strategy and mobilising supporters during the Legislative Council elections.

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However, Wang stressed that the liaison office had only one principle and one goal, no matter who was in charge.

He stood firm on the red line that Beijing has drawn against the idea of Hong Kong independence, warning it was “seriously violating the laws” and “absolutely impossible”.

“It is impossible, because there is zero space for Hong Kong independence in the 9.6 million square kilometres of land in all of China or in the whole world,” Wang said. “And there must be zero tolerance among all Chinese people, including 7 million Hongkongers.”

Wang, who previously headed Beijing’s liaison office in Macau, promised there would be no change in the central government’s “unswerving” implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy for Hong Kong.

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Wang also called on Hongkongers to gain a more “complete, accurate and deep” understanding of the “one country, two systems” governing principle after some “storms”.

From November last year to July this year, six lawmakers were stripped of their Legislative Council seats by the High Court over improper oath-taking in October last year.

Speaking at the same event, Lam said she was proud of the nation’s strong development. “Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China,” she said. “After I became the chief executive, I deeply feel the country’s love for Hong Kong.”

Lawmaker Charles Mok, convenor of a weekly meeting of pan-democrat legislators, said: “I think some of us might be willing to meet him, but what effect will it have?

“The former liaison office chief has been interfering with Hong Kong’s internal affairs ... If Wang doesn’t change that approach, communication will not mean much.”

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin doubted if Wang was sincere or “repeating clichés” when he talked about communicating with the pan-democrats.

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“Instead of communicating with us, past liaison office chiefs have identified the pan-democrats as major targets of suppression,” Wan said.

In July 2013, Wang’s predecessor, Zhang, became the first liaison office director to accept an invitation to have lunch with all Legco members. More than 50 lawmakers, including opposition pan-democrats, attended the event.

But Wan said: “That was only one single and occasional gesture. Speaking overall, the liaison office has been going against President Xi Jinping’s promise.” On July 1, Xi had said the central government was ready to talk to anyone regardless of their political views.

On independence, Andrew Wan said: “Wang was being tough on the one hand and soft on the other ... The pan-democrats do not agree with independence advocacy because it is not feasible, but we are not against debating it as an academic topic.”

Mok said Wang and Beijing needed to realise that independence advocacy had gained support, especially among youth, because people were disappointed with the lack of democracy in Hong Kong.