President Xi Jinping’s call for a city run by patriots does not mean an absence of constructive criticism, the leader of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party said on Thursday. Insisting Beijing welcomed policy recommendations, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said her party had a long history of helpful critiques that contrasted with opposition lawmakers’ attempts to “undermine” the government. “I believe the central and local governments are willing to accept constructive critiques and opinion … We also took aim at the chief executive because we want her to accept our suggestions, and the city’s governance can improve,” she said following a Legco question and answer session with Hong Kong’s leader. Xi, in a virtual meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on January 27, stressed the importance of ensuring the city was governed by patriots as he hailed the restoration of stability over the past year. Four days later, Lee and other leaders of the DAB launched an ambitious new campaign to “reform and transform Hong Kong”, with safeguarding the city’s prosperity and stability, ensuring “patriots govern Hong Kong”, and championing social equality as their main goals. Xi’s remarks and the DAB’s plans raised questions as to whether opposition voices would be forbidden in city politics, and whether politicians would be regarded as unpatriotic if they found fault with the central government’s policies. Patriot games: who is loyal enough in the eyes of Beijing and can critics survive the system? Lee dismissed such suggestions in a press conference on Thursday, saying the DAB had also been “critical of both the central and city government’s policies”. “The difference between [us and the opposition camp] was that our criticisms were aimed at helping those in power to improve governance, not to paralyse or undermine their work, so much so that their governments cannot operate.” Lee said that since the 1990s, the DAB’s representatives on China’s legislature and top advisory body had identified problems with a range of mainland policies, from HIV-Aids testing and fire safety checks to the accountability of judges. Policy recommendations were submitted to urge the Chinese government to improve on those areas, she added. Lee and other DAB leaders on Sunday also vowed to push officials to overhaul education and youth policies to nurture a new breed for young and talented Hongkongers who love the country and the city. She insisted on Thursday that such proposals were aimed only at educating young people about the country, not to prevent independent thinking. “Hong Kong is such a free and open city, how would young people’s thinking be changed like that? … But there are concepts and issues that we must tell young people about, so that they understand,” she added. Last month, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said on his first day in office that he welcomed suggestions for judicial reform as long as they did not infringe on the independence of the judiciary. Citing Cheung, Lee said judicial reform should be promoted to make sure the courts and judges could move with the times and protect the rule of law. The legislator also urged the city’s top officials to introduce administrative reforms and improve the government’s efficiency. Opinion: Has the definition of ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’ narrowed under national security law? In containing the coronavirus pandemic and rebooting the city’s economy, officials had been too bureaucratic and cautious, Lee said. “I hope civil servants can show residents that they have a ‘can-do’ spirit. Right now, residents can easily have the impression that when you propose what can be done, civil servants will often cite a lot of difficulties in why this and that cannot be done,” she added. Of the DAB’s “reform Hong Kong” campaign, Lee said the party would be collecting views from residents in the coming months, and submit policy recommendations to the government. But she made it clear that while the party would seek to participate more in the city’s governance, it would not be fielding any candidate to run in the city’s leadership race next year. Currently, there are four DAB members in Lam’s de facto cabinet, the Executive Council. They are home affairs chief Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, financial services chief Christopher Hui Ching-yu, and advisers Ip Kwok-him and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan. The DAB, which accounts for 13 of Legco’s 43 lawmakers, is the largest party in the legislature.