19 October 2018
Representatives of four university student unions burn copies of the Basic Law at this year's June 4 vigil for Tiananmen victims. Photo: TVB
Representatives of four university student unions burn copies of the Basic Law at this year's June 4 vigil for Tiananmen victims. Photo: TVB

What our young people are trying to say by burning the Basic Law

Defacing the national flag and emblem is illegal in Hong Kong but not burning copies of the Basic Law.

Yet, a group of students who staged a symbolic burning of the document as a show of protest during the June 4 memorial for victims of the Tiananmen crackdown is under fire from authorities.

That is no surprise.

Some people say the Basic Law is the constitutional foundation of “one country, two systems” and spurning it is like throwing away our rights and freedoms.

The view from the other side is that how come “one country, two systems” is in peril when the Basic Law is intact?

The question was posed by Joshua Wong, founder of student activist group Scholarism.

In a Ming Pao Daily op-ed, Wong argues that Hongkongers “should have the right to change the constitution”.

“It’s hard to imagine that a referendum is labeled as advocating Hong Kong independence,” he writes.

Yet, in 1989, it was considered an essential part of the process of selecting the Hong Kong chief executive and the Legislative Council to the extent that it is mentioned in the second draft of the Basic Law, he says.

We all know that during the Sino-British negotiations on the change of sovereignty, many argued that the fate of the then British colony could only be determined by tripartite talks among Hong Kong, London and Beijing.

This was the so-called “three-legged stool” approach.

Quite adamantly, Beijing rejected it, saying the talks could only be held between the two sovereigns and the Chinese authorities could faithfully represent Hong Kong’s interests.

The point made sense at the time but subsequent actions by Beijing after the 1997 handover have divested it of any meaning.

The crux of the issue is whether Beijing in fact represented Hong Kong’s interests rather than merely worked for its return to Chinese sovereignty.

The reality is that Beijing wants Hong Kong’s complete submission and our government has become a tool to achieve that end.

The government does that through the Basic Law.

Young Hong Kong people, many of whom had not been born when the mini constitution was written, feel betrayed by their own representatives at the talks.

They accuse those officials of not doing enough to ensure their future and that of succeeding generations.

And they say these people were pandering to an illusion of a “democratic reunification with China”.

Their grievances are totally justified.

At a time when different factions in the pan-democratic camp are demanding a rewrite of the Basic Law to eliminate repressive clauses that undermine Hong Kong’s own system, burning the document is a rebuke to Beijing’s treachery and broken promises.

Why did representatives from Hong Kong allow the “three-legged stool” approach to be scrapped so easily?

Does the Basic Law, which was drawn under Beijing’s directions, truly reflect the will and interests of today’s young people and future generations?

Most of them will still be around when “one country, two systems” expires in 2047.

There is nothing wrong with sending a clear message now that they want to save what’s left of their future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 9.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Deng Xiaoping (in front of microphone) and Jiang Zemin (to Deng’s right) meet with Hong Kong members of the Basic Law drafting committee in this 1990 file photo. Photo:

Deng Xiaoping (left) greets Louis Cha, a Hong Kong member of the Basic Law drafting committee. Photo:

Tam Yiu-chung, former chairman of a pro-Beijing political party, was a Hong Kong member of the Basic Law drafting committee. Photo:

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

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