Pro-Beijing heavyweight Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has voiced opposition to the view that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying helped achieve a relaxation in rules related to China travel permits for previously barred pan-democrats.
Rumours of the policy change emerged on Tuesday night, but remained unconfirmed on Wednesday morning. Pro-Beijing activist Robert Chow then revealed the policy shift following a meeting in Beijing with Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council. It was only officially confirmed by the government hours later, at around 8pm on Wednesday.
“It has been so long since pan-democratic lawmakers wished to get their home return permits back – last time, when Zhang Dejiang came to Hong Kong [in May], he said he would handle this matter,” Fan said on Wednesday. “I don’t see how this was related to [Leung]. Of course some will say it was achieved by the Chief Executive – I think this is a policy of the central government.”
Leung Chun-ying told reporters on Wednesday afternoon – when the news was not yet confirmed – that he had always been an advocate for positive communication between pan-democratic lawmakers and mainland officials.
A political gossip show on NowTV stated that the China Liaison Office was not aware of the policy change when asked after rumours emerged on Tuesday.
Fan, the only member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress from Hong Kong, said that the new policy was “of course a show of goodwill” to the democrats, but she could not see how the policy change would affect the election for the election committee – which chooses the Chief Executive – next week.
Leung has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election.
Some pan-democratic lawmakers, including James To Kun-sun, Leung Yiu-chung and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, have been denied entry to China for more than a decade. Former pro-democracy lawmakers and members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China also had their permits revoked.
Lee Cheuk-yan, secretary-general of the Alliance, said on a RTHK programme on Thursday that he felt it was a joke when he learned Robert Chow had broken the news.
“But, as I think about it – being more optimistic – Leung Chun-ying was not involved in breaking the news. Does it mean that Leung did not do anything, that he was not involved?… Does it mean he will not be re-elected? Then, I feel much more happy,” he said.
Leung Yiu-chung said he would not apply for a permit as the timing “demonstrates a political message that is more than about being nice.” Meanwhile, Leung Kwok-hung said the news being revealed by Robert Chow – who he described as devoid of credibility – “messed up” the incident.
Leung also said that Beijing’s gesture was an attempt to divide the pro-democracy camp by issuing permits to certain lawmakers while leaving others out.
The home return permit of newly-elected lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung was revoked during the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014.
“It is more dangerous for pro-democracy lawmakers to go back to China than for them not to go back,” Law said on Wednesday, “even if I was given the home return permit, I will not go back.”
Starry Lee Wai-king of the pro-Beijing DAB party said that “if pan-democrats can get home return permits and see the country’s development and understand the country for themselves, it would be beneficial to establishing trust and communication [with Beijing] in the future.” However, it would be more difficult for pro-independence lawmakers to apply for a permit, Lee said, as they may not agree with the country’s constitution and could pose a threat to national security.