South China Morning Post, 01 August 2003

Two systems, one destiny



By Martin Lee

Never have I been so hopeful that Hong Kong will have a bright future under Deng Xiaoping's policy of "one country, two systems". It all started on July 1, the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, when more than 500,000 people, mainly professionals and the middle class, took part in one of the largest, peaceful and orderly demonstrations the world has ever seen. Most had to wait at least three hours before they could take their first steps forward, following a police announcement that they would only count those demonstrators who set off from Victoria Park.

On the face of every person, I saw hope. It is often said that the people of Hong Kong are apolitical and only interested in making money. But on that summer afternoon, they marched for democracy and freedom, for themselves and for their children. In the process, they turned history back towards its intended direction. Remember that when Deng first announced in 1982 that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong for 50 years with a high degree of autonomy under "one country, two systems", he was already opening the China market to the outside world. Soon, he would get rid of communism.

Deng was supremely confident, and wanted to fulfil his lifelong ambition of bringing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau - in that order - back to the fold. Indeed, he first focused his attention on Taiwan, but soon learned that he would have to go to war to win it back, which was obviously not an attractive proposition. So he changed his plan. He decided first to strike a deal with Britain over Hong Kong, and then with Portugal over Macau, hoping that the success of the two special administrative regions under Chinese rule would attract Taiwan back. The negotiations between the Chinese and British governments took two years. And when the draft Sino-British Joint Declaration was announced on September 26, 1984, I was happy because I thought that the "one country, two systems" policy could work.

I said, however, in my maiden speech in Legco on November 27, 1985, that it all depended on who was going "to rule Hong Kong" - if he or she were to be handpicked by leaders in Beijing, then it would not work, because the chief executive would not be able to withstand pressure from the much mightier system across the border. But if the chief executive and every member of Legco were to be democratically elected by the people of Hong Kong, then it would work, because they would have to defend Hong Kong people's rights and freedoms, failing which they would not be re-elected. I had assumed that the Chinese government would continue to trust the people of Hong Kong to run their own affairs.

The Joint Declaration was ratified by China and Britain in the spring of 1985. And in July 1985, the drafting process of the Basic Law began. After the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, the leaders in Beijing were not sure of their own position, and so their policy on Hong Kong was encapsulated in one word: control. There was almost complete distrust between officials in Beijing and Hong Kong, which remained for a long time. The Basic Law was promulgated by the National People's Congress on April 4, 1990. In the afternoon of that same day, I successfully moved a motion in Legco calling on the National People's Congress to make substantial amendments, in accordance with suggestions contained in a report prepared by the non-governmental members of Legco and Exco. These proposals included quickening the pace of democracy. But no amendments were made.

Democracy, or universal suffrage, was, however, stated in the Basic Law to be "the ultimate aim" for the election of both the chief executive and all members of Legco. But this was postponed for 10 years, from 1997 to 2007, when both the chief executive and the entire legislature can be democratically elected. The Chinese government wanted the first 10 years to shape the future of Hong Kong for the remaining 40 years - and for good reason. The majority of the people of Hong Kong left mainland China many years ago, or were born of parents who did so. It was the prospect of freedom which brought them here, and it was the fear of losing such freedom that caused so many people to leave Hong Kong before 1997. There are, however, people here who would loyally support the Chinese government on every matter. But they are very much in the minority.

The great majority of Hong Kong people treasure their freedom and the rule of law, and wish to have democracy - although they, too, fully support the principle of "one country, two systems". Unlike in Taiwan, no one here is calling for independence for Hong Kong. In pushing back democratic elections for 10 years, the Chinese government's plan was to give time to its loyal supporters to win majority support in all elections in Hong Kong, so that leaders in Beijing would retain control over the chief executive and Legco even after the introduction of universal suffrage in 2007.

During the past six years, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has faithfully and vigorously followed the Chinese government's hardline policy in every way. And he has been assisted and influenced greatly by the New China News Agency, which subsequently changed its name to the Central Government Liaison Office. It monitors the operations of all mainland corporations, as well as the pro-communist political parties in Hong Kong - including, in particular, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB). The Liaison Office is effectively the Hong Kong branch of the Communist Party. It tries to help all pro-communist candidates win elections in Hong Kong at all levels: from the post of chief executive, through Legco and District Council elections, to the election of representatives of owners in multi-storey buildings. Its help comes in the form of organisation, manpower and, above all, money - by asking Hong Kong tycoons to make generous donations. For example, while the Democratic Party raised $1 million last year by selling $20 raffle tickets on busy street corners, the DAB collected $38 million in donations during the same period.

In 1988, Lu Ping, the then vice-director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council, told me in no uncertain terms that after 1997, when Hong Kong was part of China, there would be no justification for the New China News Agency to continue its operations in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the Liaison Office has not only remained, it has increased its activities and profile in Hong Kong. Pursuant to that hardline policy, Mr Tung has tried his best to favour pro-communist people by appointing them to Exco and other important and influential bodies, and by awarding them honours, while at the same time marginalising the democrats.

Indeed, as the saga over Article 23 has shown, Mr Tung treats as enemies all those who opposed the legislation, including the head of Hong Kong's Catholic diocese, Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Bar of England and Wales, the New York Bar, and other groups of lawyers, journalists, academics, and other professionals, students and non-government organisations. But to what avail? Mr Tung's government has not been effective or popular, even after the establishment of the so-called "accountability system" for principal officials on July 1 last year, under which all ministers are appointed and removed by the Chinese government on the sole recommendation of Mr Tung.

Neither the chief executive nor his ministers are accountable to Legco or the people of Hong Kong. What we have is a "puppet system", under which the Chinese government picks the chief puppet, and he, in turn, picks 14 smaller puppets - called ministers - with the leaders in Beijing pulling all the strings. Mr Tung has many faults, but he is not helped by a fundamentally flawed system. He was picked by the Chinese government to govern Hong Kong without the mandate of the people. This is precisely what I feared might happen when I delivered my maiden speech in 1985. But the hardline policy of control has not worked. Half a million people have now told the leaders in Beijing that they will not take it any longer. They do not want their freedoms to be rolled back by the Article 23 legislation. They want to elect their next chief executive in 2007 and the entire legislature in 2008 by universal suffrage. In short, they want the "one country, two systems" policy to be fully implemented.

As a result of the July 1 march, both the secretary for security, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, and the financial secretary, Antony Leung Kam-chung, have resigned. The leader of the Liberal Party, James Tien Pei-chun, resigned from Exco, thus forcing Mr Tung to postpone Article 23 legislation for an indefinite period.

Hong Kong is now at a crossroads. The people expect Mr Tung to consult them in a meaningful way with a new white bill, which gives assurances that all their freedoms will be preserved. The people also expect Mr Tung to prepare Hong Kong for democracy in 2007. China, too, is at a crossroads, having gone a long way since the enacting of the Basic Law in 1990. It is now a member of the World Trade Organisation, and Beijing is already preparing to host the Olympic Games in 2008. The new leaders, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, have won the admiration of many people in Hong Kong for the way they handled the Sars crisis.

Surely they should be as confident as Deng was when he announced the "one country, two systems" policy in 1982. Surely it is time they trusted the people of Hong Kong and encouraged them to be masters of their own destiny. The alternative is unthinkable: the Chinese government continuing to enforce the hardline policy by increasing its control over Hong Kong. But would leaders deploy troops already stationed in Hong Kong if there was trouble at any large demonstration in the future? Will they keep postponing the democratic process year after year? If they do go down this route, they will completely wreck the "one country, two systems" policy.

I do not think this scenario will materialise. And I am confident that the new leaders in Beijing will make the right decision on Hong Kong. This will not only be good news for Hong Kong; it will also assure the rest of the world that China can be trusted on its international agreements and should, thus, be received by the world powers as a trusted partner. But more importantly, it will also show Taiwan that the "one country, two systems" formula can work.

Martin Lee Chu-ming is a directly elected legislator, a former member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, and the founding chairman of the Democratic Party.

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