24 October 2016
Neither PLA troops nor mainland officials may interfere in the local affairs of Hong Kong, the Basic Law guarantees. Photos: Xinhua, MTR
Neither PLA troops nor mainland officials may interfere in the local affairs of Hong Kong, the Basic Law guarantees. Photos: Xinhua, MTR

Another large nail in the coffin of one country, two systems

A very dangerous line has been crossed with the announcement that mainland law enforcement officers will be stationed on the Hong Kong side of the new cross-border rail link due to open in 2018.

This represents another large nail being banged into the coffin of “one country, two systems”.

SC Yeung has provided valuable information on several aspects relating to the West Kowloon Terminal, where these officers will be stationed, but there has generally been a lack of attention paid to the political implications of this move.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, the ever-obliging Secretary for Some Kind of Justice, has tried to present this as little more than a technical issue, claiming that its main purpose is to save time for travelers.

Meanwhile one of the most obsequious pro-government commentators has urged the democrats not to “politicize” this issue, followed by the usual rant about how they politicize everything.

Yet what can possibly be more political than an action that breaches the Basic Law’s spirit and specific provisions?

Just in case anyone has forgotten what underpins the Basic Law, let us revisit its famous Article 2, which sets the tone for what follows by saying that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will “exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power”.

Then there are the specifics: Article 14 clearly states that the SAR government is responsible “for the maintenance of public order in the Region” and, to underline this point, emphasizes that the People’s Liberation Army, the only part of the state security apparatus permitted to operate in Hong Kong, “shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region”.

If all this is not clear enough we have Article 22, specifying that no part of the mainland’s central, local or regional governments “may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law”.

Annex III of the Basic Law spells out which national laws are to prevail in the SAR. Customs and immigration control are not among them.

For the avoidance of doubt, Article 18 stipulates that, unless an exemption is stated, other national laws will not apply in Hong Kong.

Government officials, not least the chief executive, are assiduous in their quoting of the Basic Law and turn to it to answer all manner of criticisms yet seem oblivious to both its spirit and aspects of the law that underline Hong Kong’s autonomy.

From the birth of the SAR, we have seen this autonomy whittled away with the active connivance of the leaders who are supposed to represent Hong Kong.

It began early, with Hong Kong’s highest court being overruled in Beijing on the question of right of abode.

The process moved swiftly on with attempts, thankfully thwarted, to implement draconian anti-subversion laws and a program of national education designed to remove the line separating the schooling of local children from that of their mainland counterparts.

The central government’s liaison office in Western has become a command post.

Government officials, legislators and even house-trained media executives scuttle over there to receive instructions.

The extent to which it presides over the government was inadvertently highlighted when bungling pro-government legislators failed to vote down the Beijing-designed electoral reform proposals.

They did not even think it worthwhile to make a first apology to the presumed head of the government but went straight over to Western to abase themselves.

The process of dismantling the “one country, two systems” concept seems to claim new victims by the day.

However, this latest move of bringing mainland security officers into the heart of Hong Kong is, in many ways, more troubling than most, because only an idiot or the most ardent apologist for the one-party state across the border will believe that the erosion of local control over law and order will end here.

The apologists for this latest undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy do not even try to explain why mainland officers will be required to be stationed at the new West Kowloon terminus when it was never found necessary to have them stationed at Hung Hom station, where a through train to Guangzhou has been operating for some time with no obvious difficulties in this respect.

What has changed is the political climate in which the Central People’s Government and its willing accessory CY Leung have decided that pussyfooting over Hong Kong’s autonomy has got to end and the people of the SAR need to learn that “one country, one system” is the way forward.

There also appears to be some feeling of urgency in speeding up the pace of dismantling autonomous institutions.

What next?

Take your pick, but if you were standing in CY Leung’s shoes maybe the dismantling of Hong Kong’s football team would be a good idea, so that he would not be embarrassed by questions over whether he supports the local team.

Oh yes, and why not knock down the most abiding reminder of “colonial oppression” in Hong Kong?

Maybe it’s time for Government House [Ed.: Leung's abode] to make way for the People’s Liberation Palace?

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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