Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong dismisses ‘intervention’ claims at first open day event
Staff at central government branch in city seek to dispel misconceptions about their work while allowing visitors to tour premises for first time
The central government’s top organisation in Hong Kong opened its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday to demystify its functions and build trust with locals, even as it made clear its job was to keep a close watch on the city’s affairs.
The media and up to 1,500 visitors from selected pro-establishment groups were granted access to five of the some 30 floors of the central government’s liaison office building on western Hong Kong Island in a two-day event that continues on Sunday.
“Hopefully touring and sitting alongside our staff and talking to them can bring us closer together and break the sense of secrecy,” liaison office director Wang Zhimin said in his opening remarks on Saturday.
Wang added that Hongkongers were not familiar with his team and that the office could seem “secretive to them”.
Deputy research director Wang Jun said the office kept a close eye on pressing issues in the city and relayed them to the central government, including housing, youth development, and national identity.
She said the team comprised fewer than 20 people and monitored local political developments, including what transpires at the Legislative Council.
“We take note of many aspects of Hong Kong,” she added.
Wang rejected claims their work amounted to “intervening” in local affairs.
“Liaising with all parties is part of our job description, and we are doing it out of goodwill. How could that be intervening?”
Another officer from the legal team said they studied court verdicts and important legislative proposals, particularly those with possible constitutional implications.
The office’s efforts to understand all aspects of Hong Kong were evident in its staff library.
The reading collection includes 13,000 books and speeches. Works on Marxism as well as some by pro-democracy scholars examining the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – line the shelves.
There are also texts on political developments that were published before the city’s pro-democracy Occupy Movement of 2014, including a few by University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun, and political analyst Ivan Choy Chi-keung. Anti-Occupy titles as well as a book on the governance crisis under the city’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-wah, can also be found.
Reporters were given a guided tour to reception areas as well as recreation rooms for snooker and table tennis. Liaison staff played games with the visitors, who were also invited to view the office canteen. Subsidised meals are offered for as low as HK$6 (75 US cents).
The office did not provide an official headcount of its employees, but media reports in 2013 put the figure at more than 500. Staff are normally assigned to work in the city for between three and five years.
Publicity officer Huang Jinliang grinned as he told reporters he lived in a 300 sq ft dormitory.
“It’s really quite small when compared with living on the mainland.”
Visitor Yeung Yun-sik, who is chairman of the local Fukienese Association’s youth committee, said he was most excited to visit the library and “page through books on the history of the Communist Party”. “These are least known to Hongkongers,” he added.
However, some city residents living nearby believed the event was not as accessible as it should have been. A Hongkonger surnamed Fong claimed he was denied entry after being told “all tickets are delivered”.
Fong said the office was “obviously too frightened to completely open up”.
“Why did they just select relatives and friends to come? It’s just putting on a show, and everybody knows that.”
Wang Zhimin said the office would consider allowing more people to visit the premises in the future. Another open day is now slated for October.