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 follows:


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.

I. Executive:

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.

II. Legislative

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 1995 elections.

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.

III. Judiciary

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 two systems:

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 its appointees.

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 systems."

V. Conclusion:

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 others.

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 and politically.

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.

| Home | Meet Martin Lee | About the Democratic Party | Press Releases | Recent Articles | District Activities | July 1 Manifesto | Photo Archives | Downloadable | Constitutional Documents | Related Sites | Search | FAQ | Feedback |

Copyright © 1998 The Democratic Party. All Rights Reserved.