Date
10 December 2016
Hong Kong is on top of the list largely because of its high scores in economic freedom. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong is on top of the list largely because of its high scores in economic freedom. Photo: HKEJ

Is Hong Kong still the freest city in the world?

For most Hong Kong people, there is an undeniable feeling that their freedom is being taken away bit by bit as Beijing gives top priority to political loyalty even at the expense of personal freedom.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s latest interpretation of the Basic Law, which led to the disqualification of two localist lawmakers who made insulting remarks during their oath-taking, is a clear example of the high value that Beijing puts on political loyalty.

It is the top criterion for any politician in China’s special administrative region.

As such, we find it quite strange for a foreign institute, and a venerable one at that, to issue a report on Wednesday ranking Hong Kong as freest city in the world.

Coming on the heels of the court decision disqualifying the Youngspiration duo from their elected positions in the Legislative Council, people are bound to say of the report: “Is this a joke?”

According to a study conducted by Canadian-based Fraser Institute, Hong Kong is the freest jurisdiction in the world while the United States continues its decline in the Human Freedom Index. China is ranked 141st in the survey.

The index, the institute said, “measures civil liberties, economic freedom, the rule of law, freedom of movement, women’s rights and much more”.

It said Hong Kong is on top of the list largely because of its high scores in economic freedom.

“While the freedom index doesn’t measure democracy, democracy remains the best safeguard of personal freedoms, so if China encroaches on its ‘one country, two systems’ relationship with Hong Kong, we can expect Hong Kong’s ranking to drop,” the institute said in a press release.

So that’s clear enough. Democracy is not taken into consideration in the rankings.  

It’s the economy, stupid. Hong Kong relies on its economic freedom to cement its position as the freest jurisdiction in the world.

Here funds from China and elsewhere can enter and exit without any barrier.

But as to political freedom, it is quite sad to note that our beloved city is lagging behind other jurisdictions.

Just like in mainland China, the voice of the opposition is being suppressed here.

To maintain its political control over the territory, Beijing is tightening the reins on the opposition camp, which is composed of the traditional democrats and the new independence advocates.

On the same day the Fraser Institute report came out, localists Sixtus Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching lost their appeals against a Court of First Instance ruling which had stripped them of their seats in Legco because they had failed to take a valid oath of office.

Although the Youngspiration duo said they were considering taking the case to the Court of Final Appeal, the NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law pertaining the oath-taking issue would make it quite difficult for them to retake their Legco seats.

As the court judgment has affirmed the legitimacy of the Basic Law interpretation, the government has now set its sights on another localist lawmaker, Lau Siu-lai, who was able to take her seat after retaking the Legco oath.

Her first oath was invalidated because she said it in an extremely slow manner.

Some pro-Beijing observers speculated that as many as eight lawmakers from the opposition could be disqualified, paving the way for territory-wide by-elections to be held early next year.

So it is becoming increasingly clear that political freedom in Hong Kong is possible only if it follows Beijing’s policies; it does not cover the voice of the people as expressed in the ballot.

The latest targets in the campaign to disqualify opposition lawmakers over the oath-taking issue were all duly elected by their constituents.

But the NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law overrides the people’s choices. Beijing can easily change the criteria of any race or any game if they don’t meet its political goal.

With such a situation, how can Hong Kong ever be considered the freest in the world?

Another issue that highlights the lack of genuine freedom in the city is Beijing’s decision to reopen the doors to pan-democrats whose permits to travel to the mainland have been suspended or canceled or have expired due to political reasons.

Beijing’s latest announcement only confirms the fact that it has a black list of people who are to be stopped at the immigration checkpoints and not allowed to cross the border.

Travel is a basic human right, but now it is being used by Beijing as a political tool to achieve its policy goals.

What is infuriating for many in the opposition is that Beijing’s decision was first relayed to a Beijing loyalist, Robert Chow of the Silent Majority, during his visit to Beijing, rather than through an official announcement using official channels.

It seems Beijing, while apparently making a goodwill gesture, is using it to embarrass the opposition.

The message is clear: You can enjoy your freedom as long as you, like the Beijing loyalists, toe the line.

All this creates the impression that in order to become a successful politician in Hong Kong, as it is in the mainland, one must show loyalty to Beijing – that’s the first and foremost criterion.

So that’s the situation in Hong Kong under Beijing’s rule, that’s life in the freest jurisdiction in the world.

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SC/AC/CG

EJ Insight writer

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