20 September 2019
The Chinese national flag, followed by the Hong Kong flag, is displayed at a pro-Beijing street rally last year in Causeway Bay. Photo: Internet
The Chinese national flag, followed by the Hong Kong flag, is displayed at a pro-Beijing street rally last year in Causeway Bay. Photo: Internet

Basic Law’s spirit and intent have long been forgotten

The Basic Law was promulgated in 1990 in a bid to stem the tide of emigration and capital outflow that started in the early 1980s when Beijing and London began talks on Hong Kong’s future.

If that was all that the document was intended for, then the result has been very satisfactory. Not only has the exit wave waned since the handover, quite a lot of people who had migrated earlier also returned home over the years.

In a speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of the gazette of the Basic Law, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying noted that clauses and provisions in the constitutional document are plain and clear and that there’s no need to speculate on the legislative intent.

“Today’s demands and appeals on the spur of the moment cannot be seen as the common aspirations [for democracy]; what really matters is the legislative intent during the Basic Law’s drafting process 25 years ago,” he said.

“With the non-sovereign, high degree of autonomy the central authorities have bestowed on us, which is unprecedented in the country, Hong Kong must tread its own path and formulate its own plans and proposals.”

I think everyone was stupefied when these words came out from Leung, who had been so arduous in propelling Hongkongers to abandon their free will and pocket a “free” vote with pre-screened candidates.

The Chinese Communist Party has a reputation for saying one thing and doing the complete opposite. The glib-tongued Leung clearly also has such expertise, although he had, during the 2012 election, repeatedly denied accusations that he is a party member.

With Leung’s proclamation that “today’s demands and appeals on the spur of the moment cannot be seen as the common aspirations” for democracy, I guess he has forgotten that it is the abrupt interpretations of the Basic Law by the Chinese National People’s Congress that have weakened the constitutional foundation and distorted the legislative intent.

Hongkongers do not have any means to alter the original thinking of the Basic Law but if Leung feels that all of a sudden people have new demands when it comes to the territory’s democratic development, he should realize that it is because of the interpretations and interference by the NPC. Mainland cadres, not Hongkongers, like to renege on the spur of the moment.

NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江) has said that the “NPC Standing Committee has the constitutional responsibility to ensure proper implementation of the Basic Law and a lawful path of Hong Kong’s constitutional development. Thus, it is necessary to decide on issues related to the methods to select the chief executive by universal suffrage.”

Remarks by Li Fei (李飛), NPCSC deputy secretary and Basic Law Committee chairman, and Zhang Rongshun (張榮順), deputy chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPCSC, have also revealed that Beijing sees the chief executive election as a battle for the right to govern.

Given this, the democrats — who want no more than a fair chance to run in 2017, a right clearly stipulated in the Basic Law — are labeled as enemies.

The Basic Law’s legislative intent about the “high degree of autonomy” and the colloquial guarantee that “river water (China) not intruding into well water (Hong Kong)” has already been forgotten.

And, how exactly does Leung intend to help Hong Kong walk its own path and formulate its own plans and proposals? Merely by showing allegiance to his mainland bosses, doing far more than what Beijing instructs him to do and scorning Hongkongers’ sentiments?

Leung also recalled in his speech the drafting process, noting all the members of the consultative and drafting bodies back then were all cooperating to protect the interests of Hong Kong despite holding starkly different political views.

“When there was a challenge, they tried to find a number of solutions. No one back then would deliberately put obstacles for obstacles’ sake,” he said.

Now, I wonder who exactly has been responsible for all the problems today that have dragged Hong Kong into a state of endless rift and social avulsion!

The fact is that the passage, or otherwise, of the 2017 election bill is no longer of consequence to Hong Kong’s constitutional development. If the bills gets the LegCo nod, Beijing can claim it has honored its pledges, but in reality the “one person, one vote” will come at the cost of our free will.

If we reject the bill, it may not also really amount too much given the harsh reality of the political situation.

That said, a ‘No” vote would mean that we can at least stay faithful to ourselves, and not be among those who will hoodwink our next generation that democracy and universal suffrage have been successfully brought to fruition.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 28.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Leung Chun-ying addresses a seminar commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Basic Law. Photo: Govt Info Service

A newspaper clipping from 1990 when China’s parliament formally approved Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Credit: SCMP

A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal