Why the idea of having two HK chief executives is being floated

April 11, 2016 15:35
Will two of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying make him more popular among Hong Kong people? Photo: CNSA

Hong Kong takes pride in calling itself Asia's world city, but the truth is that since the 1997 handover, it has been shedding its traditional western core values and turning into an indistinguishable Chinese city.

It is losing that which makes it unique in the world.

While Beijing has pledged to maintain the city's high degree of autonomy, its top leaders are moving away from such a commitment and meddling with almost every aspect of its life -- from education to election and even infrastructure.

So it doesn't come as a surprise that amid the growing disaffection of Hong Kong people to Chinese rule, a Beijing scholar is suggesting a new political structure for the city, one in which it will have two chief executives, for the purpose of striking a balance between the interests of the Chinese government and the Hong Kong people.

Jiang Shigong, a Peking University law professor and one of those who drafted the the widely-criticized 2014 White Paper on Hong Kong autonomy, said in a forum the territory may want to have two chief executives to break the current political deadlock arising from the “one country, two systems”.

Under his proposed structure, one of the chief executives will be directly controlled by the central government while the other one will be controlled by Hong Kong people.

Jiang did not elaborate on how such a system could be implemented in the real world, but the fact is that Hong Kong has been under a similar political structure for a long time.

The Beijing-appointed chief executive is elected by as small group of Hong Kong people, while the head of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong is also appointed by the Beijing government to oversee the implementation of its policies in Hong Kong, a sort of "second governing team" on top of the local government.

As such, Jiang's suggestion only serves to rationalize the two-tier political structure of Hong Kong.

In fact, such a political structure is similar to the one in China at the local government level.

In the mainland, all local governing bodies are ruled by two sets of officials.

The top level is headed by the "party secretary", which is appointed by the Communist Party, while the second level is led by the local government head such as the municipal mayor or the provincial governor, who serves under the party secretary.

If such a two-tier system is implemented in Hong Kong, the real leader will be the party secretary, who will be coming from Beijing to oversee the Hong Kong government, while the role of the chief executive can be any politician from among the Beijing loyalists in the city to assist the party secretary.

It's another way of abolishing the "one country, two systems" policy and pushing Hong Kong closer to becoming a full-fledged Chinese city.

Seen from this perspective, Jiang's proposal simply shows that Beijing and its loyalists have no intention of respecting Hong Kong's uniqueness, especially the common law regime inherited from the British rule, which is the foundation of the city's success as an international financial center.

Several Chinese and Hong Kong legal professionals gathered in Beijing on Sunday to discuss the ramifications of the Hong Kong independence debate.

Some of them went as far as saying that Hong Kong should abandon the common law regime and fully embrace the constitution of People's Republic of China.

They argued that the common laws neglect the importance of "one country" and has resulted in a situation where Hong Kong people simply think about the interest of Hong Kong and not of the whole nation.

They urged Hong Kong people to focus on "China" and help protect the nation's sovereignty.

As the Hong Kong independence debate rages, China is eager to impose their legal interpretation on Hong Kong's legal system based on their political considerations, without having to go through the judicial process.

Beijing wants Hong Kong people to accept its interpretation of laws, rather than to respect court judgment.

The central authorities want to make it known that they will not allow the discussion of Hong Kong independence, regardless of the laws in the territories that protect the freedom of expression.

Last week, Wang Zhenmin, the new legal chief of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, stressed that those floating the idea of independence are not only in breach of the Basic Law but also of the Crimes Ordinance and Societies Ordinance.

Wang said Hong Kong people had the freedom to “chat” about independence in private, say, during a meal.

But it would be considered “sedition” and “treason” under the Crimes Ordinance if it was a “large-scale discussion in the hopes of gathering a large group to act together”, he said.

In short, Wang is making a legal interpretation of a Hong Kong statute to advance Beijing's political considerations.

Hong Kong legal experts noted that the laws mentioned by Wang were directed against people who opposed the Queen's Majesty during the British rule, and the laws were not revised despite the change of sovereignty in 1997. 

Beijing's intention is clear. It is interpreting laws and proposing new political structures to stop the independence debate.

There is no need to have two chief executives to rule Hong Kong. Beijing can appoint its own candidates to fill the city's top job.

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EJ Insight writer