Beijing set to tighten its constitutional grip on Hong Kong

December 05, 2019 17:22
Over the last few days, state leaders have been weighing in on the current state of affairs in Hong Kong in a high-profile fashion. Photo: AFP

The opposition camp got a great shot in the arm after it swept to a landslide victory in the recent District Council elections, and also after US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law.

And after about a week of relative tranquility, our city once again saw the eruption of violent protests.

Meanwhile, over the last couple of days, state leaders in Beijing began to weigh in on the current state of affairs in Hong Kong in a high-profile fashion.

At a symposium in Beijing marking the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Basic Law in Macau, the chairperson of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), Li Zhanshu, made an off-the-cuff remark about Hong Kong, pointing out that our city should also “grasp” the spirit of the central authorities and the mainland constitution.

Li went on to say that there is no such thing as a constitutional system that is separate from the constitution itself, and that the central authorities have the same constitutional requirements for Hong Kong and Macau.

Then, Wang Zhimin, director of Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, delivered a speech at an event marking the National Constitution Day, saying that the radical, violent and criminal acts committed by protesters in the city over the past several months were actually intended to challenge and shake the constitution as well as to topple the constitutional order of “one country, two systems” laid down in the Basic Law.

A pro-establishment figure who is familiar with the situation in the mainland pointed out that the key point of the remarks made by both Li and Wang is to remind the people of Hong Kong about the status and importance of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

The source said the central government is now seeing the “riots” in Hong Kong as a challenge to the SAR’s “new constitutional order” founded on both the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law.

Judging from Li's remarks and Beijing’s recent two counter-measures against the United States, particularly its move to put five American non-governmental organizations on its sanctions list, it isn’t difficult for one to tell that the central authorities are now carrying out a set of new Hong Kong and Macau policy initiatives approved in the recent fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in a step-by-step manner, the source said.

These policy initiatives include, among others, governing the two SARs strictly in accordance with the national constitution, as well as establishing a viable legal system and mechanism in the two SARs that can guarantee national security, he added.

This pro-establishment figure believes that while state leaders have thrown their weight behind Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration and the police in ending the violence and restoring social order in Hong Kong, it doesn’t necessarily mean the central authorities will just sit on the sidelines and watch.

For example, by imposing sanctions on five American NGOs, Beijing is apparently attempting to concretely restrict US influence on Hong Kong’s civil society. He believes there will be more “counter-measures” in the pipeline from Beijing in the coming days.

Another pro-establishment figure said that since the protest movement broke out in June, Beijing has shifted its emphasis from “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and “a high degree of autonomy” to the central authorities’ “comprehensive jurisdiction” over our city.

As such, he believed our principal officials are likely to visit Beijing more frequently in the days ahead in order to report on their work and conduct exchanges with mainland officials.

In the meantime, Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, also noted that Beijing is likely to assume an increasingly proactive role in Hong Kong affairs amid the great power rivalry between China and the United States.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 5

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.