Top Chinese official Zhang Dejiang’s visit to Hong Kong, which included talks with pro-democracy lawmakers, was an “important breakthrough” in relations between Beijing and the city, an influential Chinese newspaper said yesterday.
The visit by the third most senior member of the Communist Party follows a period of tension in Hong Kong after the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.
The Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling party’s People’s Daily newspaper, said there was no chance of independence for Hong Kong but it called Zhang’s meeting with pro-democracy lawmakers an “important breakthrough”.
It said Hong Kong should give the legislators room to act politically, and they should be allowed to call for the ouster of the pro-Beijing chief executive of the city.
“Although it is a sharp demand for the pan-democrats to have asked Zhang to replace the current chief executive, that is part of their rights to ask,” the newspaper said in an editorial, referring to pro-democracy LegCo members.
CY Leung (R) listens as Zhang Dejiang (L) speaks on May 19 as they visit the foyer of a newly built public housing block due to open later this year. Photo: Anthony Wallace/Reuters
Zhang said repeatedly he had come to listen, and his meeting with the veteran democracy campaigners, and the editorial in a state-run newspaper, were unprecedented.
While it was not clear what action Beijing might take as a result of the visit, one of the legislators said it could signal a new stance on Hong Kong.
“It is an unprecedented move,” said Emily Lau, chairwoman of the city’s Democratic Party and one of four pro-democracy lawmakers to attend a reception with Zhang on Wednesday. “It may show that they want to handle things a bit differently.”
“The situation here is pretty grim … it’s not just the pro-democracy camp, but the business community, the professional people, the grassroots people, they are all deeply unhappy, dissatisfied, frustrated and some feel hopeless,” she said.
Another lawmaker who did not attend the reception but is a long-time democracy activist, said Beijing authorities appeared to have realised that a tough stand against calls for greater democracy risked stirring demands for independence.
“They realised the problem with very hardline confrontation is that they are losing the middle to a more separatist view … especially the young people,” said Lee Cheuk-yan.
“I think they believe with a softer posture maybe they can gain the good faith of the people of Hong Kong and avoid the problem of spreading views against China and separating from China.”