South China Morning Post, 11 June 2002

Tung risks making HK a parasite



By Martin Lee

''What are your people afraid of?'' These were the famous words of former Communist Party head Zhao Ziyang.

He asked the question during the early stages of Sino-British negotiations over the future of Hong Kong when he was being bombarded by Hong Kong journalists with questions on the mainland's plan for the territory.

The answer was obvious: Hong Kong people were afraid of losing their much cherished freedoms. That was why so many people emigrated before 1997.

The SAR was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy. But if a similar question had been raised with Communist Party leaders when the Basic Law was promulgated in April 1990 as to why it was necessary for the central Government to have such draconian powers of control over Hong Kong, a truthful answer would have been equally obvious.

The party leaders were afraid of losing control over Hong Kong in the aftermath of the student movement on the mainland in 1989, which found massive support in Hong Kong. This fear explains why many restrictive provisions, inconsistent with a high degree of autonomy, found their way into the Basic Law. These include:

*The need to legislate against ''subversion against the Central People's Government'' (Article 23).

*A slow timetable for the development of democracy (Annexe II).

*The effectively two-chamber voting procedure of the Legislative Council on non-government bills or motions (Annexe II).

*The very wide definition given to ''acts of state'', which has the effect of substantially restricting the jurisdiction of the courts (Article 19).

*The vesting of the final right of interpretation over certain articles of the Basic Law in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, a political organ (Article 158).

Under the common law, preserved in the Joint Declaration and elsewhere in the Basic Law (Articles 8, 18 and 160), all interpretation of law should be left to the courts. The Basic Law was promulgated at the best of times when Hong Kong people aspired for democracy and saw a window of opportunity in the shredding of the territory's status as a colony. But it also came at the worst of times as Beijing leaders were at their most insecure and wanted to ensure control over Hong Kong and the mainland. Beijing leaders did not want to lose Hong Kong, just as they do not want to lose Taiwan.

They were afraid, though unjustifiably, democracy would encourage Hong Kong people to clamour for independence. But after five years of Chinese rule and 13 years after the Tiananmen massacre, political stability in Hong Kong must have satisfied Beijing leaders beyond their wildest dreams. No one has ever asked for independence. The Democratic Party strongly supports the ''one China'' policy and is opposed to the independence of Hong Kong, Taiwan or Tibet. We only insist the reunification with Taiwan must be resolved by peaceful means, and we are against any form of violence in Tibet.

If Zhao Ziyang's question were asked again today, the answer would be different: recent opinion polls have shown that people have more confidence in Beijing leaders than the SAR Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Today, Beijing leaders can have no doubt that China will never lose Hong Kong. They are confident of being able to lead China forward and that it will soon become an economic power on a par with the United States.

President Jiang Zemin has taken China into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and has projected himself in the international forum as a world leader. Communism is gone on the mainland. ''Socialism with Chinese characteristics'' is fast becoming a free market economy.

China today is vastly different from when the Basic Law was promulgated 10 months after the Tiananmen massacre. The 1.3 billion Chinese people are happy with the rejection of communism and many are busily adapting themselves to fit into a 21st century China in the WTO. The number of Internet users has grown like wild mushrooms. The imminent emergence of a strong middle class means the leaders must learn to be more transparent and accountable. The big question today is: what role should Hong Kong play in this grand scheme?

The answer from Deng Xiaoping (if he were still alive), the architect of ''one country, two systems'', would be: ''Keep your best qualities, like your freedoms, your rule of law, your level playing field, your clean government - and improve on them so that the rest of China can learn and benefit from your example. That is why I have insisted that there be no change for 50 years as I thought China would take at least that long to catch up with you.''

The answer from our Chief Executive was and is: ''If China gets better, Hong Kong gets better. If Hong Kong gets better, China gets better.'' In other words, Mr Tung's vision for Hong Kong is that it should first and foremost be a Chinese city. And so Hong Kong people must not do anything that might upset Beijing, such as pushing for democracy.

Indeed, if one looks back at the past five years of Mr Tung's rule and calls to mind some of the things his administration has done, one will have to conclude that he is leading Hong Kong backwards, not forwards.

Evidence includes the scrapping of the two municipal councils, the reintroduction of appointed seats to the district councils, the reinterpretation of the Basic Law, the decision not to prosecute former newspaper owner Sally Aw Sian after an ICAC investigation, and the selection of a private developer for the Cyberport on a prime Pokfulam residential site without a public tender.

Now Mr Tung is giving himself even stronger control by introducing the ministerial system. It is not difficult to see what will happen to Hong Kong over the next five years under Mr Tung and his puppet ministers.

There will be increased police power, as recently evidenced by the handcuffing of two journalists when the police cleared abode seekers from Chater Garden; the dawn arrests of well-known protesters including student leaders; the force's high-profile criticism of the ICAC's arrest of a senior police officer; the erosion of freedoms if anti-subversion laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law are enacted.

If Mr Tung is allowed to continue with his ways as the nation becomes a world economic power, he will turn Hong Kong into a parasite of China.

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