Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced last month that he had been informed by the central government that Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, and Li Fei, director of the Basic Law Committee of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) will meet with members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of Hong Kong, in Shanghai, April 12 and 13. The meetings will present opportunities for exchanges of views on several issues including Hong Kong’s constitutional development. Leung said he hopes all LegCo members will cherish the rare opportunity.
Opposition lawmakers’ responses were varied. Some, including Lee Cheuk-yan, hoped they could talk to central government officials in a separate meeting; while some others, such as Fung Kin-kee, demanded meeting with central officials of higher authority than Wang or Li. Still others said they would not go on the trip because the Shanghai visit sounds like the fabled “Hongmen Banquet”, a meeting between generals of two enemy camps filled with psychological intrigue and thinly veiled intimidation in the age of Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BC). Many commentators were not impressed by the melodramatic pretense.
Mainstream media hold that the Shanghai visit will inevitably focus on constitutional reform. It is widely perceived that the significance of the election of the Chief Executive (CE) by universal suffrage is not limited by the boundaries of Hong Kong. The central government holds the constitutional power to decide how Hong Kong’s constitutional development will proceed, and has shown undeniable sincerity by sending Wang and Li to Shanghai to meet with Hong Kong SAR legislators.
The public hopes lawmakers will seize this great opportunity to respond positively to the invitation even if they do not necessarily agree with the central government on certain issues concerning Hong Kong’s constitutional development.
Truth be told, the upcoming Shanghai visit will benefit Hong Kong lawmakers whether they agree with the central authorities or not. Why? First, the opposition legislators don’t have a lot of opportunities to visit the mainland. They should not waste this chance to take a close look at the society up north; second, Wang and Li are both senior officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs. They will no doubt convey the views of Hong Kong legislators on constitutional development to higher decision makers of the central government after the face-to-face meetings. The meetings also will allow the two sides to become better acquainted, even to forge friendly ties, which should benefit future communications and cooperation.
Since it will be such a good thing, why are some LegCo members so suspicious of the Shanghai visit? Well, it appears those lawmakers mistook the trip for an opportunity to negotiate with the central government. In reality it is an opportunity to exchange views. It is this misunderstanding that prompted opposition lawmakers to demand a separate meeting with central government officials of higher authority than Wang and Li.
It is public knowledge that Li and Wang are both top officials on Hong Kong and Macao affairs and more than qualified to talk with Hong Kong LegCo members, period. The demand by some opposition lawmakers to meet with higher central government officials indicates the desire to speak to someone who can make decisions on the spot; while the request for a separate meeting with Beijing officials is likely an attempt to bargain with the central authorities behind closed doors. Such demands show what those LegCo members want is not a discussion but a negotiation with the central government.
Hong Kong’s constitutional development has been under deliberation for years and the central authorities are very well informed about popular opinions and the demands of the “pan-democracy” camp in particular. That is why the central government has reiterated time and again the three main principles for the 2017 CE election by universal suffrage. Therefore the Shanghai visit will not be an opportunity for negotiation somewhere outside of Hong Kong but an opportunity for positive communication and to provide reassurance to the public. If the opposition camp is still dreaming of pressuring the central authorities into any concessions, it can only prove to be wild fantasy.
Lu Xun, a pioneer in modern Chinese literature, once wrote in a prose narrative that in old Shanghai there was a gang of dockhands known as “Qing Pi” (ink mob) who overcharged passengers for taking luggage to and from ferries no matter what. “My suitcase is so light it shouldn’t cost a lot,” the passenger says. “Two yuan,” the “ink mobster” demands. “The hotel I’m going to is quite close by,” another passenger notes. “Two yuan,” the gang members insists. “That’s too expensive. Forget it.” The answer is still “two yuan”. In a sense the opposition lawmakers can really give those “ink gangsters” a run for their money but no matter how assertive they sound there is no way they will ever win, because they apparently overestimated themselves beyond reason. By raising all those outrageous demands they have in fact shut themselves out.
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.