The Ottawa Citizen, April 18, 1997

China Will Restrict Hong Kong's Freedom

By Martin C.M. Lee

At the end of the 20th century as the world community is moving steadily towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Hong Kong's small but free society is poised to lose these basic rights. I am in Ottawa this week on my last visit to Canada before the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to the People's Republic of China at midnight, June 30, 1997. I bring with me an urgent message about the future of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

In 1984, China and Great Britain signed the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and registered it at the UN. Under the terms of the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong and its 6.5 million people will be returned to Chinese rule under an arrangement Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping called "one country, two systems." This meant that Hong Kong people would "rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy," and that -- except for defence and foreign affairs -- we the people of Hong Kong, would be masters of our own house. The freedom which made Hong Kong a legendary success story would be preserved and China promised, in effect, to adopt a "hands off" policy on Hong Kong.

For Hong Kong Chinese, the handover should be a happy moment. However, our pride in rejoining the motherland is tempered by the knowledge that China is not honouring her commitments under this treaty to respect Hong Kong's freedoms, human rights and way of life. In the Joint Declaration, China solemnly promised Hong Kong an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, personal freedoms and a capitalist economy. These promises are written in plain language and formed the basis of the support of the Canadian government and of the international community.

However, throughout the past decade and with increasing frequency, China has broken her promises. Today, China's policy towards Hong Kong can be summarized in a single word: control. The most damaging blow to Hong Kong's future occurred last December, when 400 members of a committee handpicked by China met to appoint a legislature. This illegal and illegitimate "Provisional Legislature" will take the place of the legitimate Legislative Council, elected by more than one million Hong Kong people to a four-year term in 1995. China has said that the appointed legislature will serve for at least the next year before elections.

But no date for new elections has been set. Unfortunately, since China will control the legislature on day one, China is set to control the legislature forever. This appointed body contains many members who were actually defeated in Hong Kong's democratic elections. It is these appointees who will be responsible for changing the rules for the new "elections" and it is already clear that the "one person, one vote" system will be changed to something much less fair, open and democratic. I have been an elected legislator since Hong Kong's first elections in 1985 and I was elected in 1995 to a four-year term. On July 1, my 18 Democratic Party colleagues and I will no longer be permitted to represent the people who in 1991 and 1995 elected us to represent them. The Democratic Party is Hong Kong's largest and most popular party at all levels of government and we have won every set of elections in Hong Kong at all three levels of government.

Nevertheless, China refuses to conduct discussions with the Democratic Party and has sought to intimidate pro-democracy leaders by labeling them "unpatriotic" and "subversive."

China has announced that, through its appointed legislature, such normal activities as public demonstrations and forming a political group will be criticized and that this body will legislate even before July 1, 1997 against subversion, treason, sedition and theft of state secrets. Last week, our future Chief Executive, Mr. C. H. Tung, announced a number of fundamental changes to our laws. These proposals clearly target the Democratic Party and our allies and, among other things, ban fund-raising and contacts with international organizations. China's appointed legislature is also expected to reinstate draconian colonial laws restricting freedoms and to roll back existing human rights protection laws. Already, China's National People's Congress has repealed or amended a number of Hong Kong laws, including the most important law we ever passed: the Bill of Rights. Senior Chinese officials and our future Chief Executive have said that colonial laws restricting assembly and association will be resurrected and a new law on the undefined crime of "subversion" will be passed by China's appointed legislature.

The Bill of Rights, which was enacted in 1991 following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, is the most important statute in Hong Kong. It enshrines all the basic human rights contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including freedom of the press, religion, assembly and association. And it contains a provision which gives to Hong Kong courts the power to strike down any law which would infringe on these basic rights.

China's National People's Congress has recently repealed this most important provision, which reassured Hong Kong people that their rights would be protected by law. Thus, from July, the courts in Hong Kong will no longer be able to strike down any repressive laws passed by China's appointed legislature, but must apply these laws to the detriment of our people.

Without an elected legislature to pass good laws to ensure rights, and without the Bill of Rights to guarantee freedoms by law, Hong Kong people will have no protection for their basic rights and freedoms. In such a scenario, my fear is that it will be impossible to maintain the rule of law as we know it today.

We in Hong Kong are not asking independence, or for anything that China has not already promised. All we are asking is that those promises be kept. How Canada and other democratic countries of the world react to China's many breaches of the Joint Declaration will make the difference in whether Hong Kong remains the free society it is today or whether the democratic elections, human rights and rule of law Hong Kong people have heretofore known and cherished will be extinguished. But my message to Canada and Canadian citizens is not without hope. It will be much more difficult to expunge freedom where it already exists. Hong Kong's elected representatives and I will stay in Hong Kong and work to keep Hong Kong the free and prosperous society it is today. Hong Kong people have known democracy -- they have seen it at work -- and, thought it may be shut down briefly, Hong Kong people will fight to keep our freedoms and get democracy back.

Although I am greatly concerned about recent developments and threats to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, I am optimistic in the long term -- if. If the international community does not turn away Hong Kong and our people.

If Canada and other countries insist on the full implementation of the UN-registered Joint Declaration. If Chinese leaders return to their original policy of keeping Hong Kong free and autonomous. My vision for the future is that my country, China -- which is today a big country -- will one day be a truly great nation, where the human rights of all our citizens are respected and protected by law.

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