Chinese official on HK visit vows to 'see, listen, speak'

Mr Zhang (at right) accompanied by Mr Leung after arriving at Hong Kong's airport yesterday. Mr Zhang is the most senior Chinese official to visit Hong Kong since the 79-day Occupy movement in 2014 to push for unfettered elections.
Mr Zhang (at right) accompanied by Mr Leung after arriving at Hong Kong's airport yesterday. Mr Zhang is the most senior Chinese official to visit Hong Kong since the 79-day Occupy movement in 2014 to push for unfettered elections.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

China's No. 3 man, and the person in charge of Hong Kong affairs, has pledged to "see, listen and speak" on his three-day visit to the territory - conciliatory words aimed at healing the estranged relations between Beijing and the increasingly restive city.

But Mr Zhang Dejiang's overture was met with some scepticism, seen in the altercations between police and pro-democracy activists yesterday. The latter mounted "guerilla" operations to make their demands heard. Some scaled a hill in Kowloon to hang a giant banner with the words "I want genuine universal suffrage". Others resorted to cat-and-mouse tactics, including disguising themselves as suited office workers in a bid to approach Mr Zhang's hotel in Wan Chai.

Political activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law of the Demosisto party were cornered by police officers after they booked hotel rooms in the vicinity and hid in various buildings around the Grand Hyatt hotel where Mr Zhang is staying.

Mr Wong told The Straits Times: "The police have organised thousands of officers to block us from reaching him. He says he wants to listen to us, but he has no idea what we want, nor does he have the ability to communicate with us."

But Mr Zhang will be meeting four moderate pan-democratic lawmakers tonight at a cocktail reception. They will present two demands from the camp - to remove Mr Leung Chun Ying as Chief Executive of the city and to restart electoral reform as soon as possible.

NO UNDERSTANDING

The police have organised thousands of officers to block us from reaching him. He says he wants to listen to us, but he has no idea what we want, nor does he have the ability to communicate with us.

MR JOSHUA WONG, from the Demosisto party, who was cornered by police officers after booking hotel rooms and hiding in various buildings around the Grand Hyatt hotel where Mr Zhang Dejiang is staying.

The process to reform Hong Kong's electoral system so that Hong Kongers can vote for their leader next year hit a roadblock after Beijing laid down strict rules that essentially meant no pro-democracy politician can run. It later sparked the 79-day Occupy movement in 2014 to agitate for unfettered elections.

Mr Zhang is the most senior Chinese official to visit Hong Kong since. Yesterday, he said he brought with him Chinese President Xi Jinping's good wishes, and a "caring heart". He is in Hong Kong, he said, to observe the changes in the city and how the people live their lives.

Among other things, he also wants to hear society's views on the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy. The policy, which undergirds Hong Kong's relations with Beijing, has taken a beating in recent times, especially after five booksellers went missing last year. Many believe they were kidnapped by Chinese agents.

Hong Kongers are also worried about Beijing's increasingly visible hand in domestic affairs.

Mr Wong said: "What we have to do is try to organise direct action to show Mr Zhang our disagreement with Beijing's interference in Hong Kong and its elimination of our self-governance."

On what plans his group has over the next two days, he said: "We are still considering our actions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese official on HK visit vows to 'see, listen, speak''. Print Edition | Subscribe