Hong Kong’s constitutional development is lurching towards a life-and-death showdown that will decide the fate of the “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” principle and the city’s high degree of autonomy.
Prior to the 1997 handover some Hongkongers were convinced to “pocket the Basic Law first” since the constitutional document bears Beijing’s pledges of self-administration and autonomy and there was indeed no better option back then.
Many felt secure that our capitalist economy, lifestyle and freedom could be preserved.
But when the Sino-British talks reached a stalemate, some realized that neither London nor Beijing was trustworthy.
Although the process of drafting the Basic Law was deemed prudential and open and the constitutional principle of the document gained wide endorsement, some doubted whether Beijing would honor its pledges to the fullest extent.
They said if there would be any unfavorable changes after the handover, the loophole would be clauses in Chapter VIII of the Basic Law: The powers of interpretation and amendment of this Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
Appendices one and two stipulate a three-step process for any change in the electoral method — amendments must be made with 1) the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of the local legislature, 2) the chief executive’s consent and 3) the NPC standing committee’s approval.
Yet the arbitrary 2004 interpretation by the NPC, an ominous sign of the future of our high degree of autonomy, inserted two extra prerequisites — the chief executive reports to the NPC for any amendment and NPC decides if the amendment is needed.
With these alterations, Beijing has grabbed the lead in constitutional development without any input at all from Hongkongers. This is the underlying reason why the 2017 election framework, a child of the five-step process, is designed to substitute “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” with something like “Beijing stooges administering Hong Kong”.
There is no denying that the colonial administration was based on a similar pattern as all the governors were handpicked by London, yet why did the society back then choose to live with it? Because people had faith in Britain as it is a genuine democracy. But now, under Beijing’s suzerainty, the writing is already on the wall.
If the Chinese legislature were truly respectful of the Hong Kong people’s sentiment, the first round of public consultation prior to the chief executive’s report should have not been a slapdash one. Sadly the consultation paper was concocted to evade and expel public views in support of civil nomination of CE candidates and Beijing’s directive permeated the entire text.
Members of the government’s constitutional development taskforce headed by the Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor are all locally groomed elites but they have all surrendered in the test of their resolve to guard our autonomy.
Beijing’s definitive tone is already there and local principal officials like Lam know too well that they can only stick to the script.
Dressed in a light-colored suit, Lam unveiled the election proposals at the Legislative Council last Wednesday after a dozen black-clad pan-democrats left the chamber in protest of the fake election plan.
Among those who remained were fair-haired boys in the pro-establishment camp who sat poker-faced throughout the meeting and a few centrists who are used to being loners.
Obviously some are eager to see a communist authoritarian regime take shape in Hong Kong while others, under the same roof, are mourning the death of the “one country, two systems”. Many are still struggling to abandon their convictions and moral values.
I wonder if Hongkongers were given a chance to accept or reject the offer, how would they vote?
As for the pan-democrat lawmakers, they are faced with a voting dilemma.
If they vote down the bill, Beijing and the SAR government surely will renew their effort in tossing them aside, thus making Legco even more dysfunctional. One of the consequences could be delays in plans like building Hong Kong into a renminbi internationalization center.
But should democrats back down and rubber stamp the fake election bill, the decision will weigh very heavily on their conscience.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 15.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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