Talk on Hong Kong political reform in China divides

Chinese and Hong Kong national flags hang before residential buildings in Hong Kong on 4 January 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Not all Hong Kong lawmakers attended the meeting to discuss political reform in China

The just concluded weekend meeting in Shanghai between senior Chinese officials and Hong Kong lawmakers has been billed as a landmark event.

The two sides met to discuss the divisive issue of political reform in the former British colony.

CY Leung, the current Beijing-backed chief executive, declared the event "a success", saying it was the first time the director of the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office had met with all members of the city's Legislative Council.

Except not all lawmakers were there.

And the event has been marred by accusations of censorship.

As soon as the meeting was announced, some members of the council's pan-democratic faction, which wants the public or political parties to directly nominate the next chief executive, said they would not attend.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chief Executive CY Leung (L) said the meeting in Shanghai over the weekend was "a success"

One of them, Claudia Mo of the Civic Party, told me the meeting was "only a show".

She did not think it was worthwhile to spend taxpayer dollars on the trip.

'Tell them the truth'

But after weeks of negotiations, 14 of her fellow pan-democratic colleagues decided they would go, as long as they could meet privately with mainland Chinese officials for a no-holds-barred talk on reform.

A total of 52 out of 70 lawmakers agreed to travel to Shanghai.

Among the democrats was Leung Kwok-hung, the pony-tailed chairman of the League of Social Democrats, who is better known as Long Hair.

He arrived at Shanghai airport wearing a black t-shirt in support of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of Chinese activists asking the government to reassess the violent crackdown in 1989.

Mr Leung told me he was then approached by an immigration officer who asked to look through his luggage.

He had brought three other Tiananmen t-shirts, as well as gifts for the Chinese officials: two political books and two open letters arguing his case about the Tiananmen protest and the future of democracy in Hong Kong.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Leung Kwok-hung, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, decided not to attend the meeting

He was told the items were not permitted in mainland China.

Mr Leung said he was willing to allow the t-shirts to be confiscated, but the not the books or letters.

"I need to tell them the truth. I need to do my duty, to voice the majority opinion of Hong Kong," he said. "We urge the Chinese Communist Party to end one-party rule and introduce universal suffrage in China and to release all political prisoners."

Faced with what he called censorship, he decided to leave.

Three other pan-democratic lawmakers - including Civic Party leader Alan Leong and Labour Party legislators Cyd Ho and Peter Cheung - also decided to boycott the meeting in solidarity.

In the end, only three-quarters of the Legislative Council members, including just 10 democrats, met the Chinese officials.

During the meeting, they reportedly ruled out the possibility of allowing the public to directly nominate the next chief executive, saying this would minimise the risk of a constitutional crisis.

Democrats have long rejected what they call a "small circle" election, in which a group of Beijing loyalists handpick acceptable candidates for the public to elect.

In their minds, the trip confirmed the hard-line attitudes of the Beijing government.

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