Lu Ping held firm on immigration during Hong Kong handover negotiation, Zhang Xiaoming says
Head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office told Bauhinia magazine about Lu’s challenges in taking charge of crucial talks with Britain
It was Lu Ping, Beijing’s top gun on Hong Kong affairs during the handover talks, who refused to cede to the local government the power to decide which mainland people could visit or settle in the city, as he stood firm for his country’s overall interests, an official has revealed.
Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) under the State Council, made the revelation in the latest issue of Bauhinia magazine, which included a lengthy story about Lu’s challenges taking charge of China’s talks with Britain over the return of Hong Kong after 150 years of colonial rule.
This is the first time Zhang has published an article since taking over the Beijing post earlier this year from Wang Guangya, who retired. It came after President Xi Jinping spelt out the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong at the 19th party congress in October.
In Zhang’s words, the late Lu was a man of principle who stood firm on Hong Kong issues when he led negotiations with Britain in the 1980s and 1990s on issues ranging from democracy and tackling Hong Kong’s last governor Chris Patten to the thorny topic of immigration.
Lu, who led the HKMAO between 1990 and 1997, made no concession despite views to the contrary on immigration held by some Hongkongers, according to Zhang, who wrote the article to mark Lu’s 90th birthday. Lu died in May 2015 at the age of 87.
He said the late official displayed firmness in protecting his country’s national interests, with one leading example being the immigration issue.
Zhang recalled that many Hong Kong delegates attending a 1987 meeting in Beijing tried to push through a proposal whereby the Hong Kong government would be allowed to approve which mainland people could enter Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong delegates gave their remarks one after another. Lu Ping became anxious when a consensus seemed to be reached,” Zhang, then a junior member of the negotiating team, recalled.
“Comrade Lu Ping immediately reacted in a stern manner, saying: ‘This is absolutely impossible,’” Zhang wrote.
Lu maintained that the Sino-British Joint Declaration already stipulated clearly that the British colonial administration at that time had no control over which mainland people could enter Hong Kong, as it was solely a matter for the Guangdong provincial authorities, Zhang cited him as telling the Hong Kong delegates.
“If the right of control was solely in the hands of Hong Kong, it’s difficult to ensure effective control,” Lu was quoted as saying.
The anecdote told by Zhang came as Hong Kong government statistics showed a 10-year high for the number of mainland people settling in the city. It said 57,387 arrived through the one-way permit scheme last year – up from 38,338 in 2015.
In another example of Lu’s approach, Zhang cited Lu’s nickname for Patten as a “sinner for a thousand years” after he rolled out democratic reforms opposed by Beijing.
Lu accused Patten of “creating a war” of “democracy against communism”, according to the recollection of Zhang.
Zhang recalled that after Patten’s political reform proposal was passed in 1994, Lu asked him to draft a statement on behalf of the HKMAO to explain the central government’s disapproval, adding that members of the various elected bodies could not serve beyond June 30, 1997.
Zhang’s article also included anecdotes about Emily Lau Wai-hing, the former Democratic Party chairwoman. He said when he was a junior at the HKMAO before the handover he had to translate one of Lau’s articles in the Far Eastern Economic Review about the separation of powers, when Lau was a journalist there.
The article, he said, got high level of attention from Lu, who forwarded it to the central leadership.