There was a time when contacts between the central government’s liaison office and the city’s legislature were frowned upon or even disapproved of. But the political taboo was broken in 2013, when the then office director, Zhang Xiaoming, was invited to an official lunch with local lawmakers. Although the get-together did not yield much substance, it was hailed as an icebreaker.
Another occasion is coming up. Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen is hosting a lunch for all lawmakers with new liaison office director Wang Zhimin later this month. This will be the first time for members from across the political spectrum to meet Wang, who succeeded Zhang in September. The Legco chief said it would just be a courtesy function. But it is a good opportunity for communication.
Unlike the reaction five years ago, the upcoming lunch seems to have drawn much less political overtones,and rightly so. Politicking over lunches is, after all, part and parcel of lawmakers’ routine. There is no need to view such legitimate contact with scepticism.
Indeed, Beijing’s authority over the city’s affairs makes a case for more regular exchange between the liaison office and lawmakers. But long-standing distrust and antagonism means there is still a long way to go before relations can be normalised.
The role of the liaison office will continue to be watched closely. There are concerns that the city’s high degree of autonomy is being undermined, with mainland officials allegedly lobbying lawmakers for their support in government bills. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor cleared the air when she made clear that any lobbying should be done by Hong Kong officials. This is only right under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
It is in the interest of Beijing and Hong Kong lawmakers to maintain cordial relations. Now that the political tension has eased a bit, it is time to try build a more healthy relationship. It would also do well for opposition lawmakers to get to know more about Beijing’s thinking. While they are not expected to see eye to eye on everything, it would be good if they can try to narrow the differences through dialogue and exchange.