Hong Kong’s richest man was seen visiting the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong – on Wednesday, sparking speculation over whether the visit was related to next month’s chief executive election.
In a video captured by digital media outlet Passion Times, tycoon Li Ka-shing is seen exiting the Liaison Office in Sai Wan alongside his two sons, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi and Richard Li Tzar-kai. Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming was seen sending off the trio at the front door.
According to Passion Times, Li spent about 40 minutes at the office, though the purpose of the visit remains unknown.
A number of local newspapers cited sources as saying that Li and his sons were only paying Lunar New Year’s visits to personnel at the Liaison Office. The tradition of the China Liaison Office meeting with the Li family at the beginning of every Lunar New Year existed even before the office was established, according to the reports.
Before the China Liaison Office came into existence in 2000, the Xinhua or New China News Agency represented the Chinese government in the territory.
Pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Tao claimed that the meeting was unrelated to the chief executive race. During the meeting, Zhang introduced the new deputy director Tan Tieniu to the Li family, the paper said.
But the timing of the meeting continued to raise questions over whether the Liaison Office wanted to solicit support from the Li family for chief executive candidate Carrie Lam. It is thought that the office has an interest in seeing Lam become the city’s next leader, partly owing to her commitment to adopting the governance style of incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying.
Analysts say that, unlike sectors such as the rural committee, the business sector has not come to a consensus as to whether to support Lam. The former chief secretary may have a tougher time than her rival and ex-finance chief John Tsang in securing votes from Election Committee members from the business sector, the analysts argue.
The Li family has not publicly stated their position on the leadership race, but local media speculate that the tycoon family’s public support for a candidate would have a notable influence on other Election Committee members representing the business sector.
Last month, Lam was quoted as saying in a closed-door meeting that she was not a socialist and believed in the free market. She has since met with a number of business associations and property developers. Sing Tao cited sources on Thursday as saying that leaders of developer Henderson Land had promised to give all of their six votes to Lam.
As the chief executive election nears, some lawmakers have raised concerns about the China Liaison Office’s interference in the city’s internal affairs. IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok claimed that that several pro-democracy electors have been receiving phone calls campaigning for Lam from either the China Liaison Office or “intermediaries familiar with the Chinese side.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers Michael Tien of the New People’s Party and Felix Chung Kwok-pan of the Liberal Party also complained about phone calls campaigning for Lam.
Last month, Tien complained that the “invisible hand” behind the leadership race had become increasingly visible. He later denied that the call he had received was from the Liaison Office, but said it was from a “very influential heavyweight.”
In response to growing concerns over China’s meddling in local elections, leadership hopeful and ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing updated his platform last week to include the legislation of Article 22 of the Basic Law. The provision stipulates that no Chinese government bodies may interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
The nomination period for the small-circle chief executive race runs from February 14 to March 1. The main contenders include Lam, Tsang, Woo, and lawmaker Regina Ip.
The election takes place on March 26.