Lu Ping, a former top Beijing official for Hong Kong affairs, was the person who refused to give Hong Kong the power to control who can move to the city.

Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, revealed the backstory in an article in China’s Bauhinia magazine to mark Lu’s 90th birthday.

It came as official figures showed that 57,387 people arrived from the mainland using the ­one-way permit scheme last year, almost a 50 per cent increase from 38,338 in 2015.

Zhang Xiaoming visiting Lu Ping in hospital in January 2015. Photo: Bauhinia magazine.

Lu was the deputy secretary-general of the Basic Law drafting committee in May 1987, when Hong Kong members suggested that the local government should have the final say on immigration controls at a drafting meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

“Hong Kong members gave their remarks one after another; comrade Lu Ping was anxious when a consensus seemed to be reached,” Zhang, who said it was the first time he joined such a meeting as a staff member, wrote.

“After delegate Cha Chi-ming made the same comment, comrade Lu Ping immediately replied in a stern manner: This is absolutely not possible!”

Zhang cited Lu as saying that the Sino-British Joint Declaration had already stipulated that the power of immigration controls for the future Hong Kong government post-1997 will follow the model at the time. Back then, the mainland public security authorities issued permits and the British colonial administration had no control.

“A large number of mainland residents entered Hong Kong everyday. If the approval power was solely given to Hong Kong, it’s difficult to ensure effective control,” Lu was quoted as saying.

Hong Kong Governer Chris Patten (L) and then-Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office Lu Ping shown in photo dated 21 October 1992 entering a meeting room for talks in Beijing. It was Patten’s first visit to China since he took office on July 1 1992. Photo: Mike Fiala/AFP.

Zhang said Lu further added. in an definitive tone: “Even under the three unequal treaties, the British Hong Kong administration never had the power to ban mainland residents from entering or exiting Hong Kong!”

The final decision was embodied in section 4 of Article 22 of the Basic Law, which stipulated: “For entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, people from other parts of China must apply for approval. Among them, the number of persons who enter the Region for the purpose of settlement shall be determined by the competent authorities of the Central People’s Government after consulting the government of the Region.”

Zhang said the first part of the section was the initial version, and the latter part was added after taking in opinions from all sides.

Lu led the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office between 1990 and 1997. He retired on July 6, 1997, five days after the Handover to China, and died in May 2015 at 87.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said the approval mechanism of one-way permits was not transparent and accused mainland officials of selling the permits.

“No one knows if the immigrants fulfilled the stipulated conditions to come to Hong Kong,” he said.

Emily Lau connection

Meanwhile, Zhang said in his article that he felt encouraged by Lu as a beginner in Hong Kong and Macau affairs, when he translated an article from the Far Eastern Economic Review on the accountability of the executive authorities to the legislature. He said there was a heated debate in Hong Kong over the statement, stipulated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, on how to put it into the Basic Law.

Emily Lau. Photo: Stand News.

He translated the article written by journalist Emily Lau – who later became a lawmaker – and it was sent to Lu by his superiors. Zhang said Lu may have thought it was an important issue and ordered it to be included in a summary sent to top Chinese leaders: “I was encouraged.”

He added that, on another occasion, he was called to Lu’s office after he expressed a different opinion on a topic discussed by the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group: “He believed I had a good understanding of the issue.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.