Over the past month or so, Hong Kong’s chief executive hopefuls – Carrie Lam, John Tsang, Regina Ip and Woo Kwok-hing – have made themselves very visible, offering their views on the hot topics of the day and giving the public glimpses of their vision for the territory.
But what the people really want to know is how these contenders for the city’s top job will uphold the bedrock of Hong Kong’s relations with China after 1997, namely the “one country, two systems” principle, especially amid Beijing’s relentless efforts to interfere in the city’s internal affairs.
The latest case that has raised public concern over Beijing’s commitment to honor this principle is the case of Chinese business tycoon Xiao Jianhua.
Xiao, a Canadian citizen and resident of Hong Kong, was reportedly forcibly taken by mainland agents across the border.
Democratic Party legislator James To, a member of the Legislative Council’s security panel, voiced deep concern over the incident, noting that if the report was true, it would damage the rule of law in the territory as mainland police and security personnel are not allowed to operate in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, most of the chief executive hopefuls suddenly became tongue-tied about the issue. It was only retired judge Woo Kwok-hing who talked about the issue, saying that if he were the chief executive, he would make enquiries about the case through official channels and would put his foot down and say no to any cross-border law enforcement.
Indeed, it is incumbent upon the chief executive to protect the interests of the city’s residents and uphold its legal system.
But amid Beijing’s tightening grip on the territory, it has become very difficult for Hong Kong’s leader to assert the city’s jurisdiction over these matters, or even to strike a balance between local interests and those of the mainland.
So far, Hong Kong police confirmed that Xiao went to the mainland last Friday through a border control point, but Xiao issued a statement online denying that he had been abducted.
The statement, which was later removed, said the billionaire was recovering from an illness overseas.
Ming Pao Daily published Xiao’s statement on its front page on Wednesday. The content is exactly the same as the online version that was removed.
If the local police statement that Xiao went to the mainland is true, why would Xiao still issue a statement saying he was overseas and not in China? Apparently, someone was lying.
So it is still not clear whether Xiao left Hong Kong via the normal channel, and where he is now after leaving the territory last Friday.
The details of Xiao’s case may not be directly in the interest of Hong Kong people, as his case is not directly linked to the city’s business sector.
But Xiao is apparently making use of Hong Kong’s unique status as an autonomous region to keep himself out of Beijing’s reach.
There are reports that Xiao’s alleged abduction is related to Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign.
If indeed Xiao was taken by Chinese operatives and brought to the mainland to face mainland charges, then Beijing has once again walked away from its “one country, two systems” commitment.
It is clear that Beijing’s political and security interests weigh more than its commitment to Hong Kong, as shown in the case of Causeway Bay bookseller Lee Bo, who disappeared from territory in late 2015 and later resurfaced in the mainland, where he was held in custody over politically sensitive publications.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has stressed that overseas law enforcement personnel cannot operate on Hong Kong soil.
However, Hong Kong is not “overseas” and this gives mainland agencies an excuse to conduct law enforcement operations in the territory without having to inform or coordinate with their local counterparts.
That said, the Hong Kong government ultimately has no border control for the special administrative region.
If a Chinese citizen who is living in Hong Kong breaches the mainland law, Hong Kong authorities should negotiate with Beijing to officially place that person within the Hong Kong’s rule of law mechanism, instead of just turning a blind eye on any unilateral action by mainland authorities against that person.
Of course, Hong Kong’s chief executive and other officials are directly under the central government in Beijing, and it would be quite difficult for them to oppose any illegal law enforcement action by mainland authorities.
Nonetheless, those who aspire to become Hong Kong’s chief executive should state clearly how they intend to protect the city’s jurisdiction when it comes to mainland law enforcement cases that involve Hong Kong residents.
This is a matter that involves the “one country, two systems” principle and therefore strikes at the very root of Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing.
It should be regarded as the most important issue in the coming election, something that cannot be addressed by mere PR moves by the chief executive contenders.
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