It came like a bolt from out of the blue.
And unlike previous official statements on “one country, two systems” which tend to follow a predictable trajectory, this one by Beijing’s top man in Hong Kong is shocking for two reasons — it’s new and it sounds terrifying.
On Saturday, Zhang Xiaoming told officials at a Basic Law anniversary reception that the separation of powers in Hong Kong only refers to its political system.
And this clincher: Leung Chun-ying has “special power” which overrides those of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, or words to that effect.
Did Zhang just pronounce the end of Hong Kong as we know it and ushered in 2047, the year “one country, two systems” expires, 32 years early?
Beijing’s tinkering with this governing principle has come at the expense of Hong Kong’s core values which are anchored on the constitutional separation of powers.
Hong Kong people, not always reassured by their political leaders or satisfied with them, look to an independent judiciary as a refuge.
Zhang’s comment fritters at that comfort zone when people start to fear how Leung might wield his “special power” on our courts.
The legislature is already under his thumb with pro-establishment politicians in control of the chamber.
Hong Kong is what it is because of those core values.
Its political system of checks and balances has sheltered its people from abuse by the powers that be and ensured their way of life, without fear it will be taken away by their government.
Beijing keeps saying it’s proud of the success of “one country, two systems” but the fact is it does not know how Hong Kong works.
The first thing it did when Hong Kong people tried to make it live up to its word regarding their constitutional development was to tighten its grip on the population.
That’s how last year’s democracy protests became an excuse by Beijing to curb Hong Kong’s political enthusiasm.
Now Zhang has indicated that Beijing is prepared to jettison Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region and turn it into just another Chinese city.
Not surprisingly, a pro-Beijing newspaper on Monday defended Zhang’s comments, saying these are in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s directive to uphold Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong.
It accused Hong Kong people of lacking understanding of the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing after 1997.
And to top it all, it said the leader of Hong Kong is responsible to Beijing, not Hong Kong.
Should this alarm us?
There has been speculation about a power struggle in the Communist Party, with some leftists trying to force the top leadership to put Hong Kong under an even tighter leash.
It’s possible Zhang’s comments represent his own views or these might have been made to test the waters for the hardliners.
On Sunday, Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen told state news agency Xinhua that Hong Kong and Beijing should look at “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law from each other’s perspective.
It’s this dynamic that Hong Kong people have been skittish about.
They’re likely not as concerned about the infighting in Beijing even if its sending unwelcome ripples their way.
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