National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang told Hong Kong business heavyweights and representatives from political parties in meetings in Shenzhen on Sunday that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor is "Beijing's choice" as chief executive.
The meetings came before the nomination period officially starts next Tuesday.
Zhang, also the leader of the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, flew to Shenzhen to meet representatives of chambers, political parties and social groups.
Zhang was accompanied by Sun Chunlan, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party.
Zhang reportedly said Lam had shown her patriotism and had abundant experience in administration.
Given Lam's achievements in the past few years in the government, Zhang said she would be the only contender the central government supports.
This was the first time a Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member has shown support for Lam so explicitly, but it is understood that Zhang said nothing to discourage the Election Committee members from supporting Lam's rival, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.
Zhang also rejected news reports that it was only he and Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming who endorsed Lam. The NPC chairman said the decision to endorse the former chief secretary was made unanimously by the Communist Party Politburo as a whole.
He said Beijing was not picking the next chief executive as the top post of the SAR should be formally elected by the 1,194-strong Election Committee in accordance with the Basic Law.
Lam yesterday said: "In this election I have to face the seven million citizens, and I don't think a single person or institute can influence citizens' opinion on race participants."
She made no comment on whether she benefited.
Legislator of the Federation of Trade Unions Wong Kwok-kin said he and his party comrades were not invited to the Shenzhen meeting.
Chinese General Chamber of Commerce chairman Jonathan Choi Koon- shum said: "We often exchange ideas with the central government. We won't say when or where."
However he said all 18 Election Committee members from the chamber will bundle to nominate Lam.
"Both former secretaries are good, but after discussions we decided that Lam would be a better choice, since we had [a wider] working relationship with her, such as in social welfare."
A source from the pro-establishment camp told The Standard that Beijing had already told them exactly the same message. "We heard the same thing before Lunar New Year -that Lam is Beijing's only choice, and it's a unanimous decision by the Politburo."
Tsang had been rumored to be President Xi Jinping's choice after he shook hands with Tsang in 2015 and 2016.
Others said Tsang failed to get Beijing's blessing as it took him 35 days to get his resignation as financial secretary approved by Beijing, compared with four days in Lam's case.
Some reports even said the Liaison Office had tried to persuade Tsang more than 10 times to withdraw his bid for the top post, but Tsang refused.
The Liaison Office was also said to have poached Tsang's supporters to join Lam's camp, as the director of Lam's campaign office, Bernard Charnwut Chan, used to voice his support for Tsang.