25 March 2019
There are calls in Beijing for an interpretation of Article 27 of the Basic Law to ensure that central government policies take precedence over freedom of expression in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
There are calls in Beijing for an interpretation of Article 27 of the Basic Law to ensure that central government policies take precedence over freedom of expression in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Opposition should not harbor false hopes about Beijing

Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai has withdrawn his proposal of universal pardon for all those convicted or facing charges in connection with the Occupy Movement after drawing massive criticism from both the democratic and pro-establishment camps.

Nonetheless, the opposition is still willing to explore new ways to establish ties with the incoming administration in a bid to restore a healthy working relationship with the central authorities.

However, given Beijing’s tough stance on Hong Kong affairs, the pan-democrats may just be wasting their time, unless they are willing to admit their “wrongdoings” in the past, such as the staging the 79-day Occupy Movement in 2014.

Otherwise, they would be better off if they focus on consolidating their mass base and enhancing community support for the struggles ahead.

Over the past few days, pan-democrat leaders have been floating ideas on how Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam can rebuild public trust in the government after five years of Leung Chun-ying’s disastrous rule.

Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok said Lam has do something to distinguish herself from Leung so that the public can see and feel the change under her leadership.

Kwok suggested that Lam should reopen the Civic Square, a place outside the government headquarters in Admiralty which had been closed to the public shortly before the Occupy protests. 

The government should also endeavor to rebuild relations with the opposition through a platform where representatives of the pan-democratic camp can be consulted on government policies before they are introduced and implemented.

It is said that during Lam’s visit to Beijing last week, top central government leaders told her that they have no objections if she would try to build such a platform to establish a working relationship with the opposition – as long as Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong prevails.

Such a platform, in fact, had existed in the early 2000s as the government and the democrats were keen on working together to improve the people’s livelihood.

The democrats also want Lam to help them restore ties with Beijing authorities.

Kwok said he was willing to take a proactive role in promoting an exchange of ideas between Beijing and the opposition on matters concerning Hong Kong.

After all, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office itself had mentioned that democrats are also part of the establishment.

That implied that the door remains open for the democrats to directly talk to central government officials without the need for intercession by Lam or Sai Wan.

While Beijing remains firm on its political stance, it is ready to welcome suggestions from the democrats on how to improve the people’s livelihood.

It is certainly to the benefit of all sides if Lam’s administration can establish a working relationship with the opposition, regain the trust of the other, and together work to restore social harmony.

But the people should recognize the fact that Lam will not be the only leader in Hong Kong when she assumes office on July 1.

She cannot just ignore the influence of her three bosses, namely state leader Leung Chun-ying, Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming, and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya.

The democrats’ fond wish of making friends with Lam could be sabotaged by pro-Beijing forces, and even by CY Leung who could try to keep a hostile relationship between Lam and the opposition for his own political interest.

Many mainland officials and academics are pushing for a tough approach in handling Hong Kong affairs.

They believe that that is the only option after cross-border relations deteriorated amid widespread disenchantment among the Hong Kong public over the massive influx of mainland visitors and parallel traders into the territory.

One mainland scholar even wrote that the freedom of expression in Hong Kong, though protected under the Basic Law, should not go beyond the central government’s policies.

According to Article 27 of the Basic Law, “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”

But in an internal publication of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, a Chinese scholar asserted that the National People’s Congress should consider to interpret Article 27 to limit such freedoms to prevent the spread of the concept of Hong Kong independence or separatism in the city, even before Hong Kong enacts an Article 23 legislation to protect national security in the territory.

While Beijing officials are not likely to admit that the NPC has plans to interpret Article 27, they must be discussing ways to make Hong Kong a more loyal Chinese administrative region.

That should remind the opposition that they should always seek to uphold Hong Kong’s core values, rather than focus on restoring ties with the central authorities.

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EJ Insight writer

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