A senior Beijing official says pan-democrats were among over 1,000 people consulted about Hong Kong’s planned electoral overhaul during a three- day closed-door event in the city.

Deputy Director of the Hong Kong Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) Zhang Xiaoming, who made the comment on Wednesday, did not name the opposition figures who were said to have attended, and three political parties said their members were not consulted.

Zhang Xiaoming speaks the press on March 18, 2021. File Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Representatives from the Democratic Party, Civic Party and the Labour Party said none of their members took part in the event, while a pro-establishment legislator told HKFP he did not see any democrats at a session for lawmakers.

Yiu Si-Wing, Legislative Council (LegCo) member from the tourism sector and chairman of China Travel Service, said he attended a session on Tuesday hosted by officials from China’s Liaison Office along with a dozen pro-establishment lawmakers, and democrats were not represented.

Yiu said the consultation exercise was more serious this time. “In the past [similar events were held] in a large hall with many people, and whoever wanted to speak could raise their hands. This time, they listened to every lawmaker’s or relevant individual’s opinion more attentively.”

Attendees sat round a table and typically spoke for several minutes, Yiu said. He expressed support for the overhaul and made suggestions about how best to distribute seats in an expanded LegCo.

Yiu Si-wing (L);Tik Chi-yuen (R). Photo: HKFP Remix.

The drastic changes announced by China’s legislature the National People Congress (NPC) this month, without any prior consultation with Hong Kong, would minimise the influence of pan-democrats in favour of pro-Beijing forces.

They have been strongly criticised overseas and Washington this week announced further sanctions on 24 of those blamed for the revamp and for other moves to tighten Beijing’s grip on the city.

The consultation event saw 66 sessions over three days. Zhang met individuals from various sectors in Hong Kong alongside other Chinese officials from the Liaison Office and the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Legal Affairs. Zhang said those attending spanned the political spectrum and the “seminar was broad in value and content.”

‘Didn’t see pan-democrats’

Former lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen — who left the Democratic Party in 2015 to found centrist party Third Side — said he believed he was the one closest to the pan-democrat camp among the attendees. He is currently a consultant for pro-establishment think-tank Our Hong Kong Foundation.

“I didn’t see other pan-democrats,” Tik said, nor anyone else who was previously part of the grouping such as he himself was. He attended a session with 15 people from the social welfare sector. “These voices have less opportunity to express themselves, so I cherish this opportunity to express my opinion…to strive for every bit we can.”

Tik said he believes in “seeking maximum democratic elements under the NPC framework.” During the meeting he suggested that the chief executive election committee should keep at least 3 to 5 seats for each district council, and that at least one-third of LegCo’s seats should be directly elected. Currently, half of the 70 members are.

But Zhang on Wednesday confirmed that the biggest share of seats in an expanded 90-seat LegCo would go to members of the election committee, which is dominated by pro-Beijing forces.

Emptied out. File Photo: LegCo webcast screenshot.

The Democratic Party, the biggest pro-democracy grouping, in 2010 suffered an intense backlash from pan-democrats after it was revealed that senior party members had met Beijing officials to negotiate details of a political reform bill to be passed in 2012.

They were said to be negotiating for a compromise deal that ultimately fell short of achieving universal suffrage, a more aggressive goal that other pro-democracy parties, such as the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats, were demanding. The event led to a split in the pan-democratic camp that was only mended after 2019.

Current Democratic Party chief Lo Kin-hei said that as far as he knew, no member of his party had been invited to attend the sessions, but the party would consider “on a case-by-case basis” if it was invited to closed-door discussions with Beijing officials in future.

“I’ve publicly said that they shouldn’t reduce the proportion of directly elected seats [in the legislature] as it is not in Hong Kong’s interest,” Lo said, “We would still say the same even if they won’t accept such a position as their prerequisite [to discuss].”

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.