| HONG KONG July 1
HONG KONG July 1 Among dozens of suspected
pro-Beijing groups registered with Hong Kong authorities as
companies or societies, one is conspicuous by its absence - the
Communist Party itself.
While Beijing is playing an increasing role in Hong Kong
affairs, the local branch of the ruling Communist Party remains
officially underground in the free-wheeling capitalist hub - a
legacy, in part, of British colonial rule that ended in 1997.
From helping foment a wave of riots in Hong Kong in the
1960s that challenged British rule, to paving the way for
China's reunification, the Communist Party is deeply embedded in
the city's history.
"Nowhere else in the world is there a system where the
ruling party remains an underground organisation as it does in
Hong Kong," wrote Christine Loh in her book "Underground Front:
The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong."
"Its presence in Hong Kong is meant to be a 'secret'
although one that everyone has known about for a very long
time," added Loh, who is now a senior Hong Kong official.
Nobody really knows how many Communist Party members there
might be in Hong Kong, or how powerful it is.
Hong Kong's current leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying,
has had to repeatedly deny rumours he is a Communist Party
"I am not a member of the Communist Party. I am not a
so-called underground member of the Communist Party. In fact,
I'm not a member, and have not been a member, of any political
party anywhere in the world," he told Reuters in 2012.
The British never actually outlawed the party. Sonny Lo,
author of a definitive book on China's underground control of
Hong Kong, notes that London reached a "tacit understanding"
after the Communist takeover of China in 1949 that Hong Kong
could not be used as a battlefront between communists and the
defeated Kuomintang nationalists that fled to Taiwan. Both would
therefore have to remain underground.
The Party, which traces its origins in the city back to
1920s, operated through a secret committee, running schools,
unions and newspapers. China's state Xinhua news agency office
became its unofficial headquarters in Hong Kong.
To ensure a successful handover - and its promise of "one
country, two systems" - Beijing opted for the status quo and no
explicit role for the Party after Hong Kong returned to Chinese
rule in 1997.
Xinhua was reduced in size -- its old building has largely
been turned into a state-owned hotel -- and Party work moved to
the new Liaison Office in 1998, a year after the handover.
No mention is made of the Party in the Basic Law, Hong
Kong's mini constitution that outlines its freedoms and autonomy
and governs its relationship with the rest of China.
Nor is there any significant public clamour for change -
even though the situation is at the heart of a clash of
political cultures as Beijing's confronts a Hong Kong populace
eager for full democracy.
Across university campuses in Hong Kong, the mainland
Chinese Students and Scholars Association has been active in
organising underground party meetings, according to sources.
"I've got mainland students who have flat out told me they
are party members, and even that they go to (the) Liaison Office
for meetings," one professor said, speaking on condition of
"Things can only get more complicated here as the communist
shadows grow longer. That is Hong Kong's reality."
(Editing by Bill Tarrant)