China’s top official in Hong Kong ‘understands’ fears over city poll ban for those advocating end of ‘one-party dictatorship’
Local delegation in Beijing presses for response on matter after controversy sparked by newly elected member of the country’s top legislative body
The top mainland official in charge of Hong Kong affairs “really understands” worries that those who advocate the end of “one-party dictatorship” would be disqualified from running for local office, a senior adviser from the city said on Friday.
Executive Councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he suggested to Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, at a private meeting in Beijing on Friday that allegiance to China’s constitution should not be a prerequisite to run in Hong Kong elections.
The pair discussed remarks made by Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the country’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC).
Tam warned last week that recent constitutional amendments in China meant Hongkongers chanting slogans to “end one-party dictatorship” ran the risk of being disqualified from elections.
Chen Sixi, deputy director of Beijing’s liaison office in Macau, later echoed Tam’s views, which drew the ire of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp for jeopardising the city’s freedom of expression.
Tong said Beijing’s top man overseeing local matters did not see “any differences that cannot be reconciled” on the issue.
He did not reveal further details of the senior official’s response, but said Zhang “really understands” his view.
Asked if he would conclude from his meeting with Zhang that local politicians against “one-party rule”, such as members from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, could stand for elections in future, Tong said: “I don’t see why they can’t.”
Tong is leading a 32-member group from think tank Path of Democracy. On Thursday night, the delegation dined with state officials, including Li Fei, the former chairman of the Basic Law Committee and now chief of the Law and Constitution Committee.
At the dinner, Beijing officials were asked the same question but Li only reiterated that the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, falls under China’s constitution.
Two sources said while Li sidestepped the question on the link between allegiance and election eligibility, he stressed that any opposition to the Communist Party, or the principle of “one country, two systems” could not be used to incite subversion.
Sources said mainland officials also stressed that Beijing respected the one country, two systems policy, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy. They said they believed that the model, which was set to last for half a century since 1997 when the city was returned to Chinese rule, would continue even after 2047.
Tong said he also discussed with Zhang the possibility of legislating a national security law, or Article 23, and restarting the political reform process in Hong Kong. The executive councillor said Beijing did not have an exact timetable for both, but it placed a higher priority on the national security law.
Both issues have been political hot potatoes in Hong Kong, sparking large protests.
Newly appointed Basic Law Committee chairman Shen Chunyao did not attend the dinner on Thursday because of his busy schedule.
Meanwhile, in response to the controversy sparked by his remarks, Tam said on Friday morning that he only wanted to “remind” election hopefuls that calling an end to one-party rule could be out of line with the revised Chinese constitution.
Speaking on a radio programme Tam said it was ultimately up to the returning officers to determine a candidate’s eligibility.
“There is freedom of speech in Hong Kong – you can say what you want,” Tam said, but he added that there were extra requirements for those looking to become a lawmaker.
“If you want to join the establishment, the Legislative Council is part of the establishment,” Tam said.
“You have to take an oath and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, and abide by the People’s Republic of China’s Basic Law.”
Such requirements also extended to election candidates and lawmakers-elect, he said.
On fellow NPC deputy Raymond Tam Chi-yuen’s call to add text upholding the Chinese constitution to the oaths of Hong Kong officials, including for the chief executive, Tam Yiu-chung said it was reasonable.
Politically appointed officials in Hong Kong were appointed by Beijing, he said.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu in Beijing and Sum Lok-kei