Pro-Beijing politician Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has defended the Chinese government’s interest in Hong Kong’s leadership race, despite growing concerns over Beijing’s meddling in local elections.

“The central government is not a rubber stamp, so in this [electoral] process, it has a role to play and is a stakeholder. I personally believe it is understandable for Beijing to express its opinion [on the election],” Fan said at a media session on Sunday.

Rita Fan
Rita Fan. File

Fan’s remarks were made in response to concerns over Beijing’s meddling in local elections, as local media reported that China’s no. 3 official Zhang Dejiang recently met with pro-Beijing Election Committee members in Shenzhen to rally support for chief executive candidate Carrie Lam.

Some analysts argue that the rumour was likely made up by Zhang’s faction in order to mislead the public into thinking that Lam is the “chosen one.”

But Fan, a Hong Kong delegate to China’s top legislature, rejected the theory.

“Anyone who understands Chinese politics would know that Chairman Xi must be involved in every important decision or even make the decision itself. It is absolutely impossible for other people to support different candidates,” she said.

“I think the rumour is meant to debunk people’s speculations, as well as to show that the central government supports Carrie Lam.”

‘Hongkongers’ elections’

Chief executive hopeful and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing disagreed with Fan’s view. “It is irrefutable that Chairman Xi Jinping is entitled to participate in China’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t mean that the central government can participate in Hongkongers’ elections,” he said.

Woo Kwok-hing
Woo Kwok-hing. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Since announcing his candidacy last October, Woo has been a vocal critic of alleged intervention by Chinese government bodies in local elections. He advocates legislating Article 22 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that no Chinese governmental departments are allowed to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

In response to the controversy, Lam said the election is conducted in accordance with the law, and that Hongkongers’ opinions on the candidates are not easily influenced by “any one person or organisation.”

Another leadership hopeful John Tsang denied knowledge of Beijing’s support for Lam, but said he would work on gaining support from across the political spectrum.

Lawmaker Regina Ip, a fourth candidate, said that while being “chosen” by Beijing may help that candidate gain support from a particular camp, it will not benefit the candidate in terms of popularity, Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

The nomination period for the small-circle chief executive race runs from February 14 to March 1. The election takes place on March 26.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.