Beijing’s top official in the city on Tuesday praised Hongkongers for becoming “more reasonable and mature” and promised that his office would be more transparent and welcoming in serving them.
Wang Zhimin, director of the central government’s representative office located in Hong Kong’s Western district, said it would soon be open to visits from the public.
This year, staff had started a blog to share their thoughts on living and working in the city, although a post from the office’s deputy director appeared to soft sell Beijing’s policies as he extolled the virtues of travelling by high-speed train.
“The liaison office will serve Hong Kong people with doors wide open just like your old friends, and there is nothing mysterious,” Wang, who hosted the liaison office’s annual spring reception in Wan Chai, said.
“We will walk together with you, the [city] government as well as the 7.3 million Hong Kong compatriots,” he told the hundreds of guests, who included business elite and top government officials and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
In his 20-minute opening address, Wang did not touch directly on the thorny issue of independence advocacy in the city, though last month he pledged to continue helping Lam’s administration “[defend] national sovereignty”.
Wang said the city had witnessed remarkable progress in the successful implementation of “one country, two systems” – Beijing’s governing principle for Hong Kong.
Yet, Wang praised Hong Kong College of Technology president Chan Cheuk-hay, who kicked out two students from their own graduation ceremony in December after refusing to stand for the national anthem, saying he “explicitly expressed his ideas of loving the country and Hong Kong”.
Wang also praised Lam for leading the administration.
“Harmony in a family brings success to everything,” he said.
The liaison office’s role is often seen as a controversial, with opposition pan-democrat legislators accusing it of meddling, describing it as the “Western district ruling Hong Kong”.
No opposition lawmakers were spotted in the reception, but Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki handed a protest letter to an officer at the entrance, urging the Beijing not to interfere in local affairs such as disqualifying candidates for the coming by-election.
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“I am not interested in going to visit the office building. I don’t think Wang Zhimin will be there to meet me to discuss problems on the mainland,” said Kwok, who had been barred from liaison office compound because of previous protests he had led. “I think the most important for Wang to do is not to organise an open day. He should reform the role of the liaison office and restrain his office from interfering with Hong Kong affairs.”
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“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, a member of the radical party League of Social Democrats who was kicked out of the legislature for improper oath-taking, said he might take part in an open house.
“I think the organisation of an open day also signals a change in the role of the liaison office: now the central government would rather give orders directly to Carrie Lam, instead of going through its agent in Hong Kong.”
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong doubted the open day would boost the office’s image in the city.
“After all, what would you expect to see in an office building? Unlike the open day of PLA barracks, there is no gun, no tank and there won’t be performances to entertain guests,” he said.
Under Wang’s leadership, the liaison office in Macau last July also held its first two-day open house. That included an exhibition of the liaison office’s history and displays of paintings and calligraphy by staff. Visitors were served with tea and cakes, reportedly attracting more than 1,000 visitors.