Zeng Qinghong welcomes rapprochement with democrats

This is the strongest sign to date that the ice between Beijing and the democrats is thawing. Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, the CPG official in charge of Hong Kong policy, said at a press conference for Hong Kong reporters on 23 June that there should be communication between Beijing and the democrats, which should extend throughout the central government. Speaking at an unscheduled closed-door reception at the end of his official visit to Tunisia, he commented that he would be pleased to meet representatives from different sectors in a suitable time or environment. He said that more communication could reduce mutual misunderstandings.

Zeng also stated that the basis for dialogue should be upholding one country, two systems and maintaining Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. "It was not a matter of reconciliation," he said, "since Beijing had no conflict with anybody in Hong Kong." However, he added, "It would be difficult for both sides to communicate if there was any opposition."

Zeng said he understood the dilemma faced by pro-democracy lawmakers barred from entering the mainland. Authorities had their reasons for such bans, he said, but when pressed to elaborate, he replied: "I will explain it next time."

Zeng's comments come as leading democrat Martin Lee also extended an unprecedented olive branch to the central government. He moved a motion in the Legislative Council urging people to join hands with the central government to implement "one country, two systems" and to vote enthusiastically in the September Legislative Council elections.

"Today's proposal ... aims to seek co-operation channels and avoid misunderstanding and rows," said Lee, who has long been denied entry to the mainland. He said the gap created by distrust between Beijing and Hong Kong was so great that urgent remedial action was needed. "Our firm position on democracy doesn't necessarily mean we and Beijing should be polarised like fire and water. No matter how big our differences, there must be room for co-operation," he said. In a rare show of unity in the Council, the non-binding motion was passed unanimously late on Wednesday evening.

Ending the two-hour debate, Mr Lee said Zeng's latest remarks were very positive. Similarly, Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum welcomed Zeng's comments and said the party sought better relations with Beijing. "We receive his message and we support dialogue," he said. "We also believe dialogue would be in line with current public sentiment in Hong Kong. It could at least reduce misunderstanding."

Speaking during the motion debate on Wednesday 23, Yeung warned that Beijing should not treat its communication with the democratic camp as a way of "seeking intelligence about Hong Kong" or "giving instructions to Hong Kong people".

However, not all members of the pan-democratic alliance were so welcoming about the rapprochement. Emily Lau, of The Frontier, said her party would not "beg like a dog" to meet Beijing. "Sometimes the cards are not in our hands. Our words are usually taken lightly. But we have our dignity and principles."