22 August 2019
Student leaders Alex Chow (R) and Joshua Wong  speak to reporters at the Occupy protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Photo: HKEJ
Student leaders Alex Chow (R) and Joshua Wong speak to reporters at the Occupy protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Photo: HKEJ

Some thoughts as students mull petition trip

A new-born calf makes little of a tiger. This Chinese idiom could perhaps be the best way to describe the actions of the fearless Hong Kong student groups that have been spearheading the ongoing Occupy pro-democracy campaign.

Now, the students have come up with two new initiatives. Scholarism members are in discussion with pan-democratic lawmakers for a de facto referendum while the Hong Kong Federation of Students is mulling a trip to Beijing to submit a petition.

Their aim is to urge the National People’s Congress to scrap its standing committee’s retrograde ruling on the framework for the election of Hong Kong’s top leader.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has dismissed an open letter from students seeking his help in arranging a meeting with Beijing officials. The letter was nothing new, Tung said, adding that central authorities have a full understanding of how Hongkongers feel about the NPC decision.

But the key point here is that the Hong Kong government and local NPC deputies neither have the will nor the nerve to convey the real message. Hence, a visit by students to Beijing is fully justified.

There have been some insightful analyses of the Chinese legislature’s election framework as well as the State Council’s white paper, both of which have seriously distorted the “one country, two systems” principle.

“Dream bear” Lew Mon-hung, a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, points out in a commentary that the Basic Law — Hong Kong’s constitutional document — stipulates a three-step process for any change in the electoral method and that NPC’s role is only limited to approving or rejecting the amendment. Thus, it is not supposed to make any changes to specific details as to how the chief executive (CE) must be elected.

The three-step process here refers to the provision (article 7, annex 1 of the Basic Law) that for any adjustment in the CE election methods after 2007, amendments must be made with 1) the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of the local legislature, 2) CE’s consent and 3) the NPC standing committee’s approval. 

The NPC passed an interpretation of the Basic Law in 2004 and turned the three-step process into five: 1) CE reports to the NPC for any amendment 2) NPC decides whether the amendment is needed, 3) the SAR Government introduces resolutions on the amendment to the LegCo, 4) CE’s consent and 5) the bill to be reported to the NPC for approval or record.

But even under the new framework the NPC’s responsibility is to decide if such an amendment is warranted, and nothing more than that.

News commentator Wen Ching-ting also notes that Hong Kong enjoys executive, legislative and independent judicial power — including that of final adjudication — as provided in the Sino-British Joint Declaration as well as the Basic Law. Yet, in the white paper Hong Kong’s pledged executive power is gone.

“The central government exercises overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR … and it has the power of oversight over the exercise of a high degree of autonomy in the HKSAR,” the paper says.

To correct these obvious breaches of the Basic Law, one method is a constitutional review to inquire into the constitutionality of laws and regulations. Even pro-Beijing scholars acknowledge the theoretical feasibility of such a process.

Wang Zhenmin, dean of Tsinghua University’s Faculty of Law, said in his recent book that the NPC can declare any decisions made by its standing committee unlawful if the decisions run counter to the principles of “one country, two systems” as well as Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy enshrined in the constitution.

That said, these are all procedures on paper and represent vain hopes in the face of China’s political reality. Beijing is known for going back on its word.

But the recent Communist Party plenum may have just provided Hong Kong student representatives another reason for their petition-visit: central authorities have put emphasis on the rule of law and on the nation’s constitution in particular.

Even if the students are able to make it to Beijing, I have to remind them to pay extra attention to the issue of their personal safety.

Ching Cheong, a veteran Hong Kong journalist, was jailed in China for almost three years on allegations of spying after he made a trip to the mainland in 2005. At the time of his arrest Cheong was not participating in any activities that could be deemed harmful to China.

Last month, Beijing clearly demonstrated its overbearing nature with the sudden expulsion of James Tien from the mainland’s top political advisory body. Since Occupy has been labeled as a color revolution by a number of senior Communist officials, students must exercise maximum caution when they embark on their thorny trip.

This article appeared on Nov. 10 in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has rejected students’ request to arrange a meeting with Beijing leaders. Photo: Oliver Wolfe

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe