Guangzhou (AsiaNews/SCMP) Pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers returned to the mainland yesterday after 16 years of forced absence for 'face-to-face' talks with mainland officials about the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown.
On the first of the two-day visit, four of the 59 visiting Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) members asked Zhang Dejiang, Guangdong Communist Party chief and Politburo member, to reverse the official verdict on June 4, the student movement and its bloody denouement.
Zhang replied saying that "[i]f there is no common ground, there is no point for discussion," then asserted that the central government had made the right decision on June 4. Some of the other LegCo members reacted to Mr Zhang's reply with a round of applause.
Lee Cheuk-yan, LegCo member, trade union leader and member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said that "Mr Zhang replied that our opinions [on June 4] did not represent the views of Hong Kong people, or could only reflect the views of a small number of people in Hong Kong at the most."
But Emily Lau Wai-hing, who is affiliated with the 'Frontier', one of Beijing least favourite pro-Democracy groups, said that Mr Zhang showed a dismissive attitude throughout and had no wish to listen to opposition views.
Never the less, she was still positive about the meeting. "Today's not a failure as we've made the first step. I hope the mainland government continues to have a lenient attitude and be more tolerant," she said.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who led the delegation, played down the confrontation, describing the atmosphere as good. "I think the dialogue was frank and constructive. It can eliminate much misunderstanding on the issue," he said.
For his part, Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said that "[a]lthough we have different views, it will not prevent future communication. We can't expect to solve all our differences with just one meeting."
Guangdong provincial government spokesman Li Shoujin said the Guangdong authorities adopted an indulgent approach towards their guests. The leaders of the Territory's three major political parties, including Mr Lee, were given front row seats in the meeting with Mr Zhang.
Former Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-mingwho was last year branded a traitor by one senior mainland officialjoined Shenzhen Party Secretary Li Hongzhong and Mayor Xu Zongheng at the head table at a lunch hosted by the Shenzhen government.
His last visit to the mainland was in 1989 when he was arrested after the June 4 massacre and sent packing back to Hong Kong.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post, he said that "[t]his trip shows that we (pro-democracy activists) should continue to stand firm on our principles. . . . I have only seen a small part of China, since we are only in Guangdong, and I have only seen what I was allowed to see and what has been shown to me. I can certainly see a lot of developments in Guangdong. Certainly, it has made huge progress with the blessing of Beijing. [And] I think it will overtake Hong Kong very soon in terms of economic development. But we have something that I don't believe they have, and that is the rule of law. My view is firmer than ever that Hong Kong has to maintain and consolidate the rule of law. The rule of law is the best thing we have in Hong Kong."
Despite the excitement generated by this historic trip, the visiting LegCo members complained that "the slow boat to China" made too many stops in so little time.
Beijing was very slow in dealing with these lawmakers in the past few years, but once allowed into China, they were taken on a whirlwind tour in a two-day, all-you-can-see' package headed by Hong Kong's Chief Executive.
"This trip was really very hectic," Emily Lau Wai-hing said. "I don't think we spent more than three minutes here and four minutes there."