29 December 1997
- The Democratic Party's 1997 Hong Kong Political Review
- One Country -- or Two Systems?
Today Democratic Party Chairman Martin Lee and Vice Chairman Dr. Yeung
Sum held a press conference to review the events of 1997 and to look ahead
to 1998. The Party's assessment of the first six months of Chinese sovereignty
1997 will soon be history -- a year which has been Hong Kong's focus
from the signing of the Joint Declaration through the 13-year transition
period which ended on July 1. The guiding principle of the Joint Declaration
-- and thus of Hong Kong's integration with China -- is the guarantee that
Hong Kong's rights and freedoms would continue under the "one country,
two systems" formula, and that Hong Kong people would be allowed to
rule Hong Kong with the promised high degree of autonomy.
Six months have passed since Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty to
China took place on July 1, 1997. While it is true that this time has seen
no revolutionary changes to Hong Kong, we are instead undergoing evolutionary
changes to Hong Kong's fundamentals. And though Hong Kong people can still
exercise most of our freedoms, we must do so under a dark cloud of non-representative
and absolutist government.
However, it is Hong Kong citizens' robust defense of liberty -- even
in the face of the abolition of all democratic institutions -- which has
marked the first six months of Hong Kong as part of China. Hong Kong journalists
have by and large continued to write the truth in their news reports, the
public has insisted on its right to continue demonstrating, and elected
representatives have maintained our conviction that Hong Kong must have
the freely elected legislature and freedoms China solemnly promised in
the 1984 Joint Declaration.
An SAR Report Card:
Since July 1, 1997, when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region
(SAR) of China, the implementation of the "one country, two systems"
principle has not been at all satisfactory. Below we briefly review the
performance of Chief Executive C.H. Tung and the SAR government in the
following areas: executive, legislative, judicial, and the relationship
between China's central government and the SAR. Of greatest long-term concern,
the key areas of democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedom all showed
major signs of regression.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Mr. Tung Chee Hwa, was appointed by China
to run the SAR government. But from Hong Kong people's point of view, the
Chief Executive's most important role is to represent and protect the "two
systems" within the "one country." However, Mr. Tung has
consistently shown himself to be more Beijing's representative in Hong
Kong than Hong Kong's advocate in China.
Mr. Tung's first Policy Address reflected his and China's anti-democratic
political stance. He made no mention of human rights and rule of law and
rejected public pressure to make a any commitment to future democratic
development. Mr. Tung has listened principally to Beijing and has let China's
representatives such as the Preparatory Committee interfere with the internal
affairs of the SAR, often in direct opposition to the wishes of the Hong
Kong people. Examples include:
- The amendment of the Public Order and Societies Ordinances; introducing
the dangerous and vague concept of "national security" to restrict
the freedom of assembly, demonstration and speech.
- Drastic amendments to the electoral laws without public consultation;
slashing the franchise by 2 million in the functional constituencies and
remodelling democratic elections to guarantee the largest vote winners
a reduced number of seats.
- Re-instatement of the discredited appointment system in the District
Boards and Municipal Councils; appointing election losers to these seats.
- Use of the appointed Provisional Legislative Council as a rubber stamp
to repeal a number of key laws passed by the elected Legislative Council.
The members of Mr. Tung's cabinet, the Executive Council, are all Beijing
loyalists, and virtually all represent vested business interests. Thus
executive decisions have uniformly favoured tycoons and ignored labour
and grassroots interests, as seen in the repeal of laws protecting basic
labour rights. There are also clear conflicts of interest for several members
of the Executive Council, who have businesses which could benefit by their
decisions in housing and other areas.
Hong Kong's elected legislature was the first casualty of the transfer
of sovereignty. China's first act in Hong Kong on July 1 was to abolish
the legislature elected by over a million people in 1995. Many of the appointees
who replaced elected legislators were in fact defeated in the 1991 and
The appointed Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) has unsurprisingly
proven itself to be a rubber stamp. Its members are as unrepresentative
as their decisions are unpopular with the public. Virtually all decisions
and bills presented by the executive branch are endorsed, though various
political factions within the body do amend bills in ways which will favour
their interests (such as proposals to gerrymander certain constituencies).
The appointed body's president, Mrs. Rita Fan, proposed a new political
culture of not criticizing the Government, but rather offering only "positive
suggestions." The Democratic Party believes this new culture means
ignoring the public, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and basic
freedoms. The elimination of public representation in Hong Kong also means
there are no checks and balances on the government and local and international
confidence in government institutions may be reduced as a consequence.
The rule of law is absolutely vital to Hong Kong's continued prosperity
and stability because without it, neither our economic success nor our
freedom can be preserved. Decisions in key cases have abrogated the constitution
and revoked explicit constitutional rights.
In July, the Court of Appeal decided that the establishment of the appointed
legislature -- in violation of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law
-- was an exercise in the autonomy of the nation and that the courts in
the SAR have no basis to challenge the legality of the PLC. This decision,
which agreed China has the power to rewrite the constitution and interfere
with the internal affairs of the SAR, greatly tarnished the integrity of
the judiciary and its perception of independence.
Shortly after the handover, the appointed legislature passed an Immigration
Ordinance to eliminate the right of abode for mainland children of Hong
Kong parents. The Basic Law grants these children right to live in Hong
Kong, but in a decision with long-term consequences, the courts upheld
the SAR government's administrative revocation of this constitutional right
for executive purposes.
IV. Relationship with the Central Government: one country eclipses
While China has apparently not interfered in the day-to-day administration
of Hong Kong, this is because the Central Government has little need to
directly intervene in Hong Kong. With the establishment of the SAR, China
ensured absolute control over the executive and legislative branches through
Moreover, the SAR is not able to genuinely participate in the China's
decision-making process. The closed-door, pre-ordained "elections"
for Hong Kong representatives to the National People's Congress demonstrated
clearly how effectively "one country" overshadows "the two
China's current implementation of the "one country, two systems"
principle is in direct conflict with the promise of Hong Kong people ruling
Hong Kong. The central government has ensured that Hong Kong's autonomy
is in a "bird cage" which permits some freedoms, while restricting
Although the worst fears of Beijing being actively involved in the running
of Hong Kong have not come to pass, by making changes to Hong Kong's system
which mirror Singapore or mainland China, Chief Executive Tung is himself
undermining Hong Kong's promised "high degree of autonomy." Loss
of autonomy will mean the erosion of what distinguishes Hong Kong from
China: our freedoms, entrepreneurial spirit, our international outlook,
the institutions of government and the rule of law that underpin our markets,
and Hong Kong's unique character which blends the best of East and West.
That would indeed be a great loss not only to the world, but to China itself,
which needs the model of Hong Kong to continue progressing economically
Looking ahead to 1998, the Democratic Party is determined to continue
representing Hong Kong people -- and to contest the May 1998 elections.
But the bottom line is that unless the important fundamentals of our community
are institutionalised and freedoms preserved, there is no genuine guarantee
for long-term stability and prosperity.
And unless we have genuine elected institutions to guarantee freedoms
and political rights will be preserved, then although we may still be free
to enjoy many of our freedoms and economic success today, there is simply
no guarantee that they will continue tomorrow.