The Asian Wall Street Journal, March 28, 1996

How We Will Fight to Save Legco

By Martin C.M. Lee


While Taiwan is leaping ahead to join the world community of free societies, Hong Kong -- long Asia's model of economic success, freedom and the rule of law -- is lurching backward.
Last week Beijing's bombs and missiles in the Taiwan Straits failed to stop the advent of true democracy in Taiwan. But the day after Taiwan's historic elections, Chinese leaders dropped a political bomb on Hong Kong -- similarly intended to put an end to our emerging democracy. Beijing formally declared that our elected legislature would be abolished and replaced by a fully appointed one to be up and running later this year. On Monday China said their appointed body would start drafting laws before the handover, and on Tuesday that to keep their jobs, Hong Kong's respected independent civil service would have to pledge allegiance to that counterfeit legislature immediately after the body was set up.
For those of us who had hoped that Beijing would ultimately see the wisdom of leaving our elected institutions, civil service and freedoms intact in Hong Kong, it is the clearest signal et that Chinaís leaders intend to run Hong Kong in much the same way they now run China.
In the 1984 Joint Declaration, under which Britain agreed to hand Hong Kong over to China in 1997, Beijing solemnly promised the international community that Hong Kong people would "rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy" and that under the "one country, two systems" policy, there would be non-interference in Hong Kong's domestic affairs. Sunday's 149-1 decision by the Beijing-appointed Preparatory Committee to ax Hog Kong's legislature has cut off any hope that Beijing would uphold these promises.
This decision represents the last step in China's long march to total control over all three branches of Hong Kong's government. The highest official in Hong Kong, the chief executive, will be appointed by Beijing, as will all top civil servants. Last year, Britain gave China control of Hong Kong's legal system by adopting Beijing's dangerously wide and uncertain definition of "Acts of State," thus leaving it to China to decide which cases can be tried in Hong Kong courts.
Hong Kong's Legislative Council -- elected only last September with a majority for pro-democracy legislators -- is the last independent body in Hong Kong which could resist China's efforts to impose authoritarian rule on the territory. Though only 20 of 60 legislators are democratically elected, in the short time since the Hong Kong's elections last September, the Legislative Council has passed resolutions checking the power of the colonial government, defied Beijing by condemning China's proposal to gut Hong Kong's Bill of Rights and staunchly defended Hong Kong's civil rights and way of life.
On Monday, a senior Chinese official announced that the Beijing-appointed legislature will be set up late this year and will have "the power to revise and scrap laws," even before the handover. Far from passing laws to protect Hong Kong's economic and political freedom, Beijing's rubber stamp "provisional" legislature can be relied on to pass laws to strip Hong Kong people of liberties we so cherish.
Chinese leaders clearly do not realize that by pulling the plug on democratic institutions, they are pulling the plug on confidence in Hong Kong. IN the run-up to the handover, China's impostor legislature will operate alongside Hong Kong's legitimate, elected Legislative Council, meaning that Hong Kong will have two legislative bodies operating simultaneously: one with the mandate of Hong Kong people and the other a puppet legislature answerable only to Beijing. In short, we are heading swiftly for constitutional chaos, likely to shatter both economic and political confidence in Hong Kong's future.
Beijing clearly intends -- and may even succeed -- in doing away with elected institutions in Hong Kong, but China's leaders will never be able to erase the experience of democracy through open and fair elections in Hong Kong. The chief lesson of the 20th century, in Asia and around the world, is that once citizens have the opportunity to compare elected, accountable and representative government with authoritarian rule, they invariably reject authoritarian rule.
Nor do Hong Kong's elected leaders intend to simply roll over and accept being ejected from office when China takes over on July 1, 1997. As legislators, we were elected to a full four-year term of office by Hong Kong peopl, and we intend to fulfill our duty to them -- in the legislature or out of it. As the ablition of elected seats constitutes a clear breach of both the Joint Declaration and China's own constitution for Hong Kong, the Basic Law, we will take our battle to Hong Kong's courts. We will not be alone in our fight, for whenever Hong Kong peopl have had the chance tovote they have overwhelmingly chosen pro-democracy candidates, proof we have already won the battle in the court of public opinion.
In fact, Beijing's insistence on ctonrol of our civil service ad modestly democratic legislature is a sign not of strength, but of weakness and fear. Because of the ongoing crisis over the succession to Deng Xiaoping, the Communist leadership does not feel secure in their own positions. In times of instability in China, the golden rule is to adopt the hardest possible line to demonstrate strength to fellow cadres.
Thus China's end-of-dynasty syndrom manifests itself across the region: in war games to intimidate Taiwan, in the bullying of Hong Kong, in the unravelling of international arms control and intellectual property agreements. Unless and until China's leaders feel secure in their own positions, they will continue to disregard international treaties such as the Joint Declaration and be international bullies.
In the end, perhaps Taiwan's elections and functioning democracy will have the greatest impact not only on Taiwan, but well beyond the island's borders.
In Hong Kong, we hope that even if the leaders in China do not see that there is nothing to fear from democracy in Taiwan and Hong Kong, they may yet wake up to the great damage that will result from choking off Hong Kong's freedoms -- both to Hong Kong and to China itself.

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