23 July 2019
Tam Yiu-chung's recent remarks have drawn heavy fire from the pan-democratic camp. Photo: HKEJ
Tam Yiu-chung's recent remarks have drawn heavy fire from the pan-democratic camp. Photo: HKEJ

Do Tam’s remarks reflect Beijing’s view?

Tam Yiu-chung, former chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and newly elected member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, has sparked a firestorm of controversy in local political circles this week.

The controversy arose from his latest remarks that people who have chanted the slogan “end one-party dictatorship” in the past could be in violation of the recently amended Chinese constitution, which stipulates that the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the essential attribute of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Such a violation could perhaps be ground for disqualification from the Legislative Council.

His words have drawn heavy fire from the pan-democratic camp. However, a pan-dem has raised doubts about whether Tam’s provocative remarks really carry weight and reflect Beijing’s view.

Tam’s remarks, the pan-dem said, were apparently directed towards the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

However, the Alliance is regarded by central authorities as a “patriotic organization”, the pan-dem said, citing actual experience of dealing with Beijing.

That’s because unlike other political groups advocating Hong Kong independence or self-determination, the Alliance has never endorsed separatism.

Instead, in the eyes of Beijing, the Alliance is a champion of national unity that has been promoting care and love for the “motherland”, the pan-dem said.

One indication of Beijing’s approval of the Alliance, according to political observers, is that the late Szeto Wah, the organization’s founding chairman, was seen as a patriot by central authorities, even though Szeto Wah didn’t “love” the Communist Party.

They also said that although the Alliance has been demanding for an end to “one-party dictatorship” during its annual June 4 candlelight vigil, all it has been seeking is “building a democratic China” rather than toppling the Communist Party.

Beijing is well aware that the Alliance is fundamentally different from other localist groups in terms of core values.

As such, they believe Beijing has relatively little hostility towards the Alliance compared with other localist groups because, as they put it, the stance of central authorities is that they would rather have young people in Hong Kong going to “patriotic” events organized by the Alliance than see them refusing to identify themselves as Chinese.

As such, they couldn’t see any reason why Beijing would suddenly toughen its stance towards the Alliance. They think Tam was only speaking for himself rather than echoing Beijing’s view when he made his inflammatory remarks.

Moreover, Article 104 of the Basic Law only requires officials or popularly elected lawmakers in Hong Kong to uphold the Basic Law and seek allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. There is no mention of pledging allegiance to the national constitution at all.

The six lawmakers were disqualified by the court not because they violated the national constitution, but only because they failed to take their oath of office properly, which suggested that they were not sincerely faithful to the Basic Law.

That said, they just couldn’t imagine how people could be stripped of their public office or their right to stand for elections just because they have chanted the slogan “end one-party dictatorship” in the past.

Nevertheless, since Beijing has been tightening its grip on Hong Kong under President Xi Jinping in recent years, nobody can be 100 percent sure about whether having chanted “end one-party dictatorship” would be used against anyone seeking public office in the days ahead.

Even Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor chose to play safe and remain equivocal over this sensitive issue.

Perhaps we won’t be able to find out whether Tam Yiu-chung was really conveying Beijing’s message until some top mainland officials step forward and provide a definitive explanation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 20

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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