China to Hear Hong Kong Lawmakers as Cries for Suffrage Rise

China’s most senior official in Hong Kong will dine with lawmakers next week for the first time since the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, amid rising demand for universal suffrage.

Members of the legislature received an invitation to meet Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of China in Hong Kong, for lunch, according to Emily Lau, chairwoman of the Democratic Party.

The meeting will take place as some lawmakers and civic groups demand that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying speed up reforms to prepare for universal suffrage in 2017, which China has promised the former British colony. Public distrust of the Chinese government rose to its highest level since February 1997 last month, according to a survey by University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme.

“This is a very historic event because there has never been mainland officials paying an official visit to the Legislative Council,” said Lau, who plans to attend the luncheon. “We’re happy to communicate with any and all parties.”

Leung -- the last Hong Kong leader chosen by a committee comprised of tycoons, lawmakers and professionals -- has to pave the way for universal suffrage. Some civic groups have proposed occupying Central, Hong Kong’s business district, next year if proposals are delayed or less than fully democratic. Past demonstrations have drawn as many as 500,000 people.

Electoral Reforms

Electoral reforms in Hong Kong require the approval of the city’s legislature and China’s endorsement. Increased democracy may lead to China’s refusal to appoint a leader elected by the city’s people, Leung said in an interview last month.

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping set in place after the handover, Hong Kong will retain its own laws and local administration for 50 years. The Basic Law, a de-facto constitution, allows residents to enjoy civil liberties, including a free press and freedom of assembly, not available in mainland China.

2017 Election

Hong Kong needs a system that will allow members of the opposition to stand as candidates in the 2017 election, Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings Ltd., which controls the city’s biggest entertainment and restaurant district, said yesterday.

“That’s the only way you’ll have legitimacy for the chief executive,” said Zeman, who nominated Leung’s main opponent Henry Tang in last year’s chief executive race. “If you just preclude pro-democracy parties, it won’t work.”

Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the law committee of the National People’s Congress, said on March 24 that consultations about political reform in Hong Kong shouldn’t start until everybody agrees that the leader of the city “can’t plot to overthrow the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Hong Kong public’s distrust of the Chinese government rose to 45.4 percent, according to a survey of 1,055 people conducted from June 10-13 by the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme.

At least 7 of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers, including Lau, are banned from travelling to China because they don’t have a permit to enter the mainland, she said. The Chinese government should lift the ban, Lau said.

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer,” Lau said. Her party’s caucus will draft a letter to Zhang to express their position on political reforms, she said.

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