Hong Kong Pro-democracy Lawmakers Visit Mainland China

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers have arrived in mainland China for a landmark visit. The group includes those previously banned from entering the mainland. Political analysts say Beijing is trying to win over its detractors in the territory.

Twenty-five Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers, some previously branded as traitors by Beijing and barred from entering the mainland, crossed the border into the southern province of Guangdong Sunday, following an unprecedented invitation by China.

Previous requests by the lawmakers to visit the mainland had been turned down. Lee Wing-tat, chairman of the Democratic Party, welcomed the trip as the possible start of communication between the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong and Beijing on sensitive issues such as universal suffrage.

"I don't expect we can achieve concrete things on this trip," he noted. "But it is a first step that we have normal communication with mainland authorities."

Since the change in leadership in Hong Kong in June, there has been an apparent thaw in relations between the pro-democracy lawmakers and the Beijing-appointed Hong Kong government.

The new chief executive, Donald Tsang, has started discussions over proposed reforms on how Hong Kong elects its leaders, even though Beijing would still ultimately decide such issues.

A committee of largely pro-Beijing members selects the territory's leader and only about half of its legislature is directly elected.

In 2003 and 2004, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Hong Kong calling for direct elections, a principle enshrined in the territory's mini-constitution. But Beijing has ruled out direct elections by 2007, when the current term of the chief executive expires.

Ivan Choy, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says Beijing is trying to show Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp that it can be flexible.

"You can say that Beijing authorities want to indicate that they want to use more moderate approach toward democrats in Hong Kong so they use this occasion to indicate a more open approach to the democrats," said Ivan Choy.

During the two-day visit, the group, which includes the entire 60-member Hong Kong legislature and Chief Executive Tsang, will meet with Guangdong officials and tour factories in the province.

Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.