28 October 2016
If Zhang Dejiang (right) was truly looking and listening during his trip to Hong Kong, he would have realized where the true threat to 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law was coming from. Photo: Reuters
If Zhang Dejiang (right) was truly looking and listening during his trip to Hong Kong, he would have realized where the true threat to 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law was coming from. Photo: Reuters

Who is threatening ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law?

The visit by Zhang Dejiang to Hong Kong, during which he held a brief meeting with four pan-democratic legislators, was clearly an attempt by Beijing to appear to be conciliatory.

Zhang – the third-ranking official of the Communist Party of China, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and the top mainland official responsible for Hong Kong affairs – warned against calls for self-determination and independence for the city.

He urged the 7.3 million people of Hong Kong to “stick to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle [and] stick to the Basic Law”.

If these were abandoned, he warned, Hong Kong “would undoubtedly rot”.

The Chinese leader started his three-day visit by saying that he was in Hong Kong to see, to listen and to speak.

Hopefully, he had a chance to see things from Hong Kong’s point of view.

Most people in Hong Kong would agree that it is vital to uphold the “one country, two systems” principle and the Basic Law.

But many believe that the Chinese government has violated them while paying them lip service.

Indeed, a reminder of the reality of Beijing’s actions was provided last week when Angela Gui, the 22-year-old daughter of disappeared Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, testified before the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington.

She pleaded with the US to put pressure on the Chinese government to release her father, who was apparently plucked by Chinese agents from his home in Pattaya, Thailand, and taken illegally across international borders into China.

Gui’s associate, Lee Bo, a British national, disappeared from Hong Kong in December.

Britain said in its latest six-monthly report that information indicates “Mr. Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process”, which “undermines the principle of ‘one country, two systems’”.

Under the Basic Law, Chinese law enforcement agencies are not permitted to operate in Hong Kong without authorization.

Thus, the abduction of Lee Bo is a violation of the Basic Law.

So far, China has ignored pressure from all quarters.

In late April, the European Union, in its annual report on Hong Kong, reported on the disappearance of Gui and four other booksellers, calling this case “the most serious challenge to Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle since Hong Kong’s handover to the PRC [People’s Republic of China] in 1997”.

“The circumstances of the disappearances were suspicious,” the report said.

“The fifth person who disappeared from Hong Kong … seems to have been abducted.”

So the EU saw China as the threat to Hong Kong’s future, not youngsters advocating localism or people calling for self-determination.

And how did China respond?

A representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Commission in Hong Kong, instead of commenting on the facts cited in the report, avoided the issue by saying: “Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affair. We are firmly against the interference in China’s internal affairs by any foreign government, institution or individual in whatever way.”

In May, the US State Department issued a wide-ranging annual report on American relations with Hong Kong.

Under the heading “Significant Developments”, it cited international media reports regarding the disappearance of “five men affiliated with Mighty Current Publishing House and the Causeway Bay Bookstore, known for distributing and selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders”.

The report said the case has raised serious concerns in Hong Kong and “represents what appears to be the most significant breach of the ‘one country, two systems’ policy since 1997.”

So the US, like the EU, saw the seriousness of the case of the five booksellers and how China’s actions had contravened its own “one country, two systems” principle.

And, like the EU, the US was told by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that “Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affair that no foreign country has any right to interfere in”.

Then, in Hong Kong, when Zhang met the pan-democrats, they specifically raised the issue.

These lawmakers certainly can’t be accused of “interfering” in Hong Kong affairs.

If Zhang didn’t know about the booksellers’ case before, he certainly does now.

So if NPC chairman Zhang was really looking and listening during his visit, he should now be in a position to report back to his comrades in the Politburo the source of the threat to “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law: the Communist Party, which has infringed on the powers of the Hong Kong government, as enshrined in the Basic Law enacted by China’s National People’s Congress.

Who would have thought it?

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.

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