HONG KONG: One of China’s most powerful officials told Hong Kong he had brought a “caring heart”, in a conciliatory start to a visit Tuesday that has stirred anger in a city that resents Beijing’s tightening grip.
The three-day trip by Zhang Dejiang, who chairs China’s communist-controlled legislature, is the first by such a senior official in four years and comes as concerns grow in semi-autonomous Hong Kong that its long-cherished freedoms are under threat.
While Zhang is ostensibly visiting to speak at an economic conference on Wednesday, the trip is widely seen as a bid to take the temperature in an increasingly divided city with a fledgling independence movement.
The visit has infuriated opponents, critical of a massive security operation that includes barricading protesters into designated areas out of Zhang’s sight.
Wednesday will see several pro-democracy groups rally, with some activists saying they will try to get close to Zhang.
Zhang arrived just before noon at Hong Kong airport where he was met by city leader Leung Chun-ying and a brass band.
In a short speech on the tarmac he said he brought a “caring heart” from the Chinese central government as well as “hearty greetings and good wishes” from China’s President Xi Jinping.
He noted there was “very nice weather” in both Beijing and Hong Kong, and said he would look at the work of the Hong Kong government and the changes in the lives of city residents.
Zhang, a member of the politburo standing committee, said he would listen to the public’s “suggestions and demands” over how the city is governed.
He will meet with a group of veteran pro-democracy lawmakers Wednesday evening, a rare move observers say is designed to defuse frustrations over stalled political reform.
“It is really time for him to meet with non-establishment legislators… to hear our analysis of how Hong Kong ended up where we are today, and what are the ways forward,” Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong, who is part of the invited group, told Agence France-Presse.
Anger over lockdown
However, only four pro-democracy legislators will meet with Zhang, and protest groups voiced anger they were being kept away from the harborfront conference center where he will speak.
“Zhang Dejiang is coming here to understand the situation in Hong Kong but now his eyesight will be completely blocked,” said Sham Tsz-kit of Civil Human Rights Front.