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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Beijing liaison office lunch for lawmakers likely to be on the premises, which could keep pan-democrats away

  • Pro-establishment camp sources say the lunch should take place at the liaison office, as a matter of respect
  • Choice of venue could deter pan-democrats, who say attending might show it endorses the liaison office’s role in the city
PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 8:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 8:08am

The central government’s liaison office is likely to host a lunch for lawmakers next month at its premises in Sai Ying Pun, a sensitive venue in the eyes of pan-democrats, who said the choice would further hinder their attendance.

Two senior sources in the pro-establishment camp told the Post that the lunch was expected to take place at the liaison office, saying it was a matter of respect.

Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen on Wednesday said the liaison office head Wang Zhimin had invited all lawmakers to lunch on February 19 – Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Noting that some pan-democrats were wary of entering the office, Leung said he had relayed their views to the liaison office but the choice of location remained in the hands of the host.

Lawmakers Martin Liao Cheung-kong, convenor of the pro-establishment camp, and Gary Chan Hak-kan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told the Post on Thursday that the lunch was expected to take place at the liaison office.

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“Asking people to visit one’s home is paying the greatest respect to Chinese guests, is it not?” Chan said. “We invited Director Wang for lunch to the Legislative Council, not to a restaurant in Admiralty.”

“A guest should be at the convenience of the host. It is inappropriate for the guest to be picky about the location,” he continued. “The pan-democrats claimed they wanted to enhance communication [with the Beijing office], but they just give up the chance when it comes.”

After taking office in September 2017, Wang visited Legco last April for the first time and mentioned inviting lawmakers to tour his office.

Claudia Mo Man-ching, convenor of the pro-democracy camp, said she was notified by Leung about the invitation on Christmas Eve, saying she was told that the venue was yet to be confirmed.

“If the lunch is really held at the liaison office, then I think most pan-democrats would not go,” she said. “The liaison offices premises is an enclosed structure, unlike Legco, which has a demonstration area.”

“If we set foot on the premises, it is as if we have endorsed the role of the liaison office in the city,” Mo said, pointing out that the liaison office had generated a worrying perception of interference in local affairs by lobbying lawmakers for the administration and coordinating the pro-Beijing camp’s strategy in elections.

Even before learning of the location of the lunch, lawmakers with a more radical stance like Neo-Democrats legislator Gary Fan Kwok-wai had already rejected the invitation saying “there are more important things to do”.

The moderate pan-democrat Kenneth Leung, representing the accountancy sector, refrained from shutting the door but voiced his reservations.

“The location of the liaison office is rather sensitive,” he said. “It would be much better if it were an open and transparent venue with media free to cover for the whole process.”

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The Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai on Thursday said the party had no interest in attending such a “social event”. “I don’t think such casual chit-chat can solve any problems in Hong Kong,” he said.

Stepping into the liaison office in Western District is always a sensitive issue for pan-democrats with many remembering the last time they visited the office.

In 2010, the Democratic Party went to the office to discuss electoral reform. They achieved a breakthrough when Beijing adopted their recommendation of setting up five more directly elected seats – the so-called super seats. But they were viewed as turncoats by rivals on their own bloc, who said the trade was done in a “black-box”, or opaque, manner.

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In 2014, Zhang Xiaoming, then director of the liaison office, also invited all lawmakers for lunch at the office after visiting Legco. But that failed to happen as all pan-democrats turned down the invitation.

However, pro-Beijinger Wong Kwok-kin believed most pan-democrats would not attend even the lunch were relocated elsewhere.

“They are mainly concerned about the reception by their supporters. No one dares take the risk,” Wong said. “If they seemed receptive to the invitation, I believe the liaison office would be happy to arrange a venue away from the premises.”