The Daily Telegraph, October 23, 1996

The Governor -- like British ministers -- is kow-towing to Beijing, and the people of Hong Kong will pay the price, says Martin Lee

By Martin C.M. Lee.

To great fanfare, Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, and Qian Qichen, the Chinese Foreign Minister, this month announced an agreement on a joint handover ceremony to mark the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty from Britain to China at midnight on June 30, 1997.
The deal ended years of diplomatic wrangling over the send-off ceremony and was hailed by British officials, in London and Hong Kong, who are now busily discussing flags, national anthems and whether or not the Prince of Wales will attend. But from the Hong Kong people's point of view, there will be little to celebrate.
The agreement on the handover ceremony serves only to obscure the fact that Hong Kong's most critical problems are being swept under the carpet. While Britain is negotiating the finer points of guest lists and venues, Hong Kong people are in a last-ditch battle to keep alive their elected institutions, rule of law and freedoms.
When the 1984 Joint Declaration was signed by Britain and China, the treaty was registered at the UN and applauded around the world. Its key promises were that Hong Kong people would have an elected legislature, an accountable government and an independent judiciary. Chinese leaders pledged not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, and that its freedoms and way of life would continue for at least 50 years under the "one country, two systems" policy.
But instead of maintaining the broad economic, political and civil freedoms that Hong Kong's 6.3 million citizens now enjoy, China's plans after 1997 can be summed up in a single word: control.
Although Hong Kong has not had a democratic system of government for most of its colonial history, it has none the less had all the benefits of democracy -- economic freedom, property rights and a free flow of information. Most importantly, it has also had the rule of law, guaranteeing due process, a level playing field, and the equality of all before the law.
Jiang Zemin, the Chinese Premier, recently reiterated China's determination to sweep away Hong Kong's elected legislature and replace it with one appointed by Beijing. More than any other action by China, the decision to abolish Hong Kong's legislature -- elected to a four-year term last September ñ will set in motion a chain of events likely to destroy the foundation of Hong Kong's free and prosperous society.
With a hand-picked legislature to do its bidding, China has pledged to emasculate Hong Kong's Bill of Rights, and to resurrect draconian colonial laws restricting press freedom and freedom of assembly and expression.
The rule of law has two essential requirements: an independent judiciary and good laws. Once Hong Kong's elected Legislative Council is replaced by an appointed one, we can no longer rely on our legislature to pass laws to protect basic human rights. Instead, the new appointed legislature will pass repressive laws as directed by Beijing. No matter how independent our judges may continue to be, they will have to apply the law as they find it. The demise of our elected legislature will mean nothing less than the end of the rule of law as we know it.
Hong Kong has been told by senior Chinese leaders that Beijing will change not only the legislature, but also the laws, and that China's new rubber-stamp forum will be set up as early as December this year. This leaves no prospect for real elections for at least two years ñ if ever again.
So, what is the British Government going to do to avert the destruction of our legislature? The answer is: nothing. The Prime Minister, Mr. Rifkind and Chris Patten, the Governor, have a minimum obligation to tell China and the world -- before it is too late -- than an appointed legislature violates the Joint Declaration, and that Britain will challenge Beijing in either the UN's International Court of Justice or the High Court of Hong Kong.
Mr. Major said in Hong Kong early this year that "if there were any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration, we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us." But by refusing to state the obvious, the British Government is in effect giving China the green light to do away with our elected institutions. Certainly, Chinese leaders have interpreted Britain's silence on this key point as acquiescence. Thus far, the Labour Party has not formulated its policy on Hong Kong. But as Labour is likely to be in power at the time of the transfer of sovereignty, it must urgently address the impending abolition of Hong Kong's legislature, and decide whether it wants to inherit the situation as it stands.
In the end, history will judge Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty not by the fireworks, dignitaries or the grandeur of the handover ceremony, but by the institutions left behind to enable us to preserve Hong Kong's rule of law, freedoms and way of life.

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