20 February 2019
Former justice secretary Elsie Leung says Hong Kong is better off being a Chinese municipality. Photo: HKEJ
Former justice secretary Elsie Leung says Hong Kong is better off being a Chinese municipality. Photo: HKEJ

How Elsie Leung just diminished Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special administrative region under the “one country, two systems” doctrine which promises a high degree of autonomy for the former British colony for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty.

However, in the 17 years since the handover, that principle has been under constant threat, notably with attempts by the central government to introduce an anti-subversion law and a national education program.

But none has brought it closer to the idea of “one country, one system” than Beijing’s proposed election framework that gives it control of the outcome of Hong Kong’s next chief executive election.

On Sunday, former justice secretary Elsie Leung suggested that Hong Kong is better off being a Chinese municipality.

Whether Leung was speaking for herself or reflecting Beijing’s thinking in a “trial balloon” sort of way, the mere fact she made the comment is telling.

Besides being Hong Kong’s first post-colonial justice secretary, Leung sits on the Basic Law Committee which makes her a key player in Hong Kong’s political development.

We can forget that it was a slip of the tongue. The remarks were so lengthy and detailed they could only have been made deliberately and for a purpose.

That is why it’s hard not to ascribe political motive to it. This new line of thinking is consistent with Beijing’s recent attempts to interfere in Hong Kong affairs 33 years before “one country, two systems” expires.

What exactly was her premise?

Leung thinks Hong Kong people don’t understand “one country, two systems” and refuse to accept that Hong Kong has been handed back to China.

Therefore, she says Beijing is right to insist that Hong Kong’s political affairs should be handled cautiously.

That is debatable and something that will be settled in the fullness of time.

But what cannot be debated here and now is that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, with freedoms guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the basis of the handover of sovereignty, and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, under “one country, two systems”.

The remarks came at a sensitive time in a deepening turmoil over Beijing’s proposed framework for the 2017 chief executive election which effectively gives the central government control of the process.

That will come from a nominating committee likely packed with Beijing loyalists who will vet candidates along patriotic lines. That means pro-democrats, who are considered unpatriotic by Beijing, have no chance to be nominated.   

Granted Leung’s motivation was to give Hong Kong people more choices for their next leader, she prescribed a remedy worse the problem by suggesting Hong Kong should be turned into a municipality of China, so Beijing does not need to set a high election threshold for its leaders.

Leung envisions a Hong Kong that is a “directly controlled municipality under the national government”, rather than a special administrative region under the Basic Law.    

When Hong Kong people want nothing less than true democracy and to be left to their own affairs, does Leung seriously think upending their freedoms and way of life is the answer?

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EJ Insight writer

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