A top Beijing envoy in Hong Kong on Sunday said his office would be “working more and closer” on youth development and a range of other issues with the city’s administration.
Wang Zhimin, director of the central government’s representative office in Hong Kong, said he had heard from “many friends” that they were pleased to see both “Central district” and “Western district” “work together” more in recent months. In the city’s political circles, the two terms are synonyms for the Hong Kong government and the central government liaison office respectively, as they are located in these districts.
He was addressing guests at a ceremony to mark the opening of the new headquarters of uniformed youth group the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association.
Delivering his speech, partly in Mandarin and partly in Cantonese, Wang, who took the helm at the office last September, said: “[Working more together] is also the wish of the Chief Executive [Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor] and me, as well as Hong Kong compatriots and young people.
“It is because Central district and Western district get together to work for the future development of Hong Kong, of the country, and of our young people … In the future, it is certain that we will work together more. We will walk together more. And we will have more achievements for you to see.”
In response to reporters’ questions after the ceremony, Wang sought to clarify his remarks, saying: “I meant to say [the Hong Kong government and liaison office] would walk together for the sake of Hong Kong.”
The liaison office’s role is often seen as a concern, with the opposition pan-democrats accusing it of meddling in local affairs beyond its purview, mocking it as “Western district ruling Hong Kong”.
Under Article 22 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, no mainland authority may interfere in affairs which Hong Kong administers under its high degree of autonomy.
Wang’s predecessor, Zhang Xiaoming, now director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, China’s cabinet, had argued that “Western district” did not rule Hong Kong, but the office had to fulfil the tasks the central government gave it.
A spokesman for Lam’s office said in a statement on Sunday night: “The liaison office plays a key role in assisting the government and various sectors in promoting … exchanges and cooperation with the mainland. This is fully in line with the central government’s support for Hong Kong in integrating its own development into the overall development of the country.”
The statement said that in recent months the liaison office had helped the government reflect to Beijing aspirations in Hong Kong for more concrete measures to facilitate Hong Kong people working, living, and studying on the mainland.
However, the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, Wu Chi-wai, condemned Wang for “explicitly acknowledging” that his office had been meddling in Hong Kong affairs.
“It shows that Wang does not care about the criticism, and he sees [meddling] as the norm now and he does not see anything wrong with doing it,” Wu said.
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But Brave Chan Yung, vice-chairman of the pro-Beijing party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said critics were “overly sensitive”.
He added: “The liaison office is authorised by the central government to keep up communications with the Hong Kong government and various sectors. What is more, what it does is for the good of Hong Kong.
“Why should it be a problem? The US consulate in Hong Kong is also in contact with pan-democrats or members of various sectors. Why didn’t the opposition camp criticise the US government for interfering with Hong Kong affairs?”
Lam, who was also an officiating guest at the opening ceremony, said in her address that she appreciated the central government’s “care” for Hong Kong’s young people.
She did not touch on working with the liaison office in her speech, but said she attached much importance to “connecting with young people”.
Lam said: “I hope we can nurture each of our young people and develop in them a sense of national identity, a love for Hong Kong, an international perspective, as well as a commitment to society.”
The cadet organisation, formed in 2015, is widely regarded as being associated with the pro-Beijing camp, as it is backed by senior government officials and the People’s Liberation Army.
The association was hit by controversy in 2016 because of the government’s speedy approval for it to turn an old school building in Kowloon Bay into its headquarters. Critics questioned whether the association was favoured because of its connections.