• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 8:14pm
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 11:56am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 2:07am

Beijing's white paper sounds death knell for Hong Kong as we know it

Albert Cheng says by reneging on its pledge of a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, Beijing seeks to turn the SAR into just another Chinese city


Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  

The State Council's white paper on the "one country, two systems" policy in Hong Kong is tantamount to a death certificate for China's promise of a "high degree of autonomy" in the special administrative region.

The paper was published in Chinese and English and has also been translated into French, Russian, German, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese.

It is obviously meant to be an international announcement of Beijing's latest policy on Hong Kong, almost 30 years after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration spelling out the conditions of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.

Much of this wordy document is typical propaganda.

Take the section on "Supporting Hong Kong in the fight against Sars", for example. It reads: "To ensure the safety of life of the Hong Kong people and help the Hong Kong economy climb out of recession, the central government promptly lent a helping hand. Although the mainland also needed medical supplies in the fight against Sars, the central government provided a large quantity of free medical supplies to Hong Kong."

What it does not say is that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus that was spread to the world via Hong Kong came from the mainland. Hong Kong was caught unprepared because of the Chinese authorities' cover-up of the health crisis despite media reports of growing panic.

If the central government had warned Hong Kong and the World Health Organisation of the hazard, our frontline medical staff might have had the first Sars patient in the city quarantined in time after he was admitted to Kwong Wah Hospital.

Propaganda aside, the white paper also signals a drastic change of Beijing's attitude to how Hong Kong is to be run.

It declares that "the high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy, nor a decentralised power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorised by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is subject to the level of the central leadership's authorisation. There is no such thing called 'residual power'."

That is to say, Beijing can dictate what can or cannot be done in Hong Kong, as it sees fit. This, of course, includes the plan for the next chief executive to be elected on a "one-person, one-vote" basis in 2017.

This is a far cry from what Hong Kong people and the world were given to understand. China is supposed to exercise control only over the SAR's defence and diplomatic affairs. Apart from that, Hong Kong should have a free hand in administering its domestic affairs.

The paper also introduces "patriotism" as a selection criterion for officials of the SAR government, including judges at all levels. The notion of "Hong Kong people running Hong Kong" has now been twisted into "Hong Kong patriots running Hong Kong".

Top officials, of course, have to take an oath of allegiance before they take office. Yet, patriotism is not a legal concept. In practice, it will be up to Beijing to define who is patriotic.

Even a former communist high official closely involved in the Sino-British negotiations in the 1980s has found the white paper unpalatable.

Bao Tong, the former policy secretary of Zhao Ziyang , who signed the Joint Declaration as Chinese premier, has urged the Chinese authorities to retract the white paper so as to salvage its international reputation.

Bao denounced the paper as a short-sighted attempt to suppress the Occupy Central movement.

His views, expressed through the international media, resonate with mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong.

In June 1995, Fortune magazine screamed in its cover story, "The Death of Hong Kong", saying that under Chinese rule Hong Kong would lose its role as an international commercial and financial hub. Twelve years later, the magazine back-tracked and conceded, "Well, we were wrong … reports of Hong Kong's death have been greatly exaggerated."

Another seven years have gone by. Fortune's original prediction now does not seem that far off the mark, after all. The promise of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is meant to be valid for at least 50 years. The white paper, however, has ended that 33 years too early.

Critics have taken the white paper as a renunciation of "one country, two systems" as we know it.

We can hardly depend on Leung Chun-ying's administration to defend our rights. Instead, top local officials have been lobbying community leaders to rally behind the white paper.

It is now up to Hongkongers to speak up in the critical months ahead to fight for what we deserve.

The legal fraternity will launch a protest march from the High Court to the Court of Final Appeal next week.

Lawyers are, for the most part, not accustomed to street action. This may as well mark the beginning of a new campaign to prevent Hong Kong from degenerating into just another Chinese city under communist rule.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

Not much to disagree with here, but Mr. Cheng is also stating the obvious. The process of transforming HK into just another Chinese city started the day of the white paper. The question is not if, but when, HKers will start losing the various things that distinguished them from garden-variety PRC citizens.
As for the CY Leung administration, when BJ says jump, CY asks how high. Looking to them to protect the rights of Hkers is a fool's errand. As I suggested elsewhere, HK is the newest prison in China. Hkers are the newest prisoners. And CY and his fellow CCP stooges are the prison guards. The ones who bend over for them might win the favour of the occasional extra smoke. Otherwise, the truly lucky ones will be those with a foreign passport.
Marcus T Anthony
Give it a rest. Hostile shmoshtile foreign forces - one under every bed, no doubt. Has it ever occurred to you that some people who disagree with the Beijing diktat have actually formed independent thought after some consideration of the facts? It is utterly useless getting rid of "foreign" thought, because the days of uniform, mindless, soulless Maoism are long over. You are no more going to get everyone to blindly follow Beijing than you are going to get everyone to dress in khaki overalls, reading little red books and waving red flags. This is 2014, not 1949. There isn't a single country or territory in the region since WW2 that has gone backwards in terms of democratic expression - and HK is not going to be the first. I suggest you take a look at some of the recent curriculum guidelines put out by the EDB for secondary schools. Critical thinking, creative expression and emotional intelligence are cornerstones of the education that HK youth are now being exposed to. You are pushing a large pile of stinky stuff uphill with a fork. The white paper runs counter to the entire evolution of HK society. This approach is just not going to work. You are going to have to get a lot, lot smarter than this. "F" is for fail.
The 50-centers have really come out to play on this thread. You've got Sue working the foreign-influence angle. Whymak is doing his usual ad-hominem bit. How About is doing the you-don't-speak-for-me song and dance (and the CCP don't speak for PRC citizens, but who's counting?). They're really emptying the playbook on this one. Just need someone to throw in the maintaining-harmony motif, with a splash of social-stability, and maybe some sky-will-fall fear-mongering, and we'd have a box set of standard CCP stand-bys. I guess Mr. Cheng must have hit a nerve.
So what you are saying is that HK people are too stupid to rule themselves and need to have tyrants in Beijing to order us how to act and think. If we do as they order, then we will progress. I tend not to believe that. I think the people here are pretty capable of saying what they want and what they don't want. And that makes Beijing very nervous because they are not used to normal people, meaning non-communists, getting involved in ruling. Nowhere in the basic law does it say that the people cannot choose the CE. Nowhere does it say that the Mainland government must choose the people who can be CE, which is what Beijing wants to do. It is they who are changing the deal, sir. Mr. Ho is quite correct in his assessment, even in your masters in Beijing do not like it.
Good article.
It really is hard to believe that so many people are just figuring this out now. Turning Hong Kong into just another Chinese City was the plan all along and we have seen so many examples to support this over the last 15 years. It really is a race against time.....fortunately, the signs of her demise are getting clearer every day.
We need to be very fair to Chinese government and the White Paper is a MUST-do for Chinese government at this stage. Otherwise, Hong Kong will be moved to a very dangerous zone with endless chaos with no progress. We have learnt from 17-year experience that if Chinese governement does not set the right tone and clarify what are and are not acceptable, Hong Kong future will be guided by mindless politican without pointless discussion. The groud rule set by the White Paper is crystal clear and Chinese government want Hong Konger people to select the Chief Executive based on the framework in the basic law. Nothing more and nothing less. For those who want to re-create a new game and rules outside the framework of basic law, they must be criticzed first on their intention. Albert is one of the master to create Chaos in Tung's government and he remained complete silence under Tsang's administration and he has absolutely no credibilty. I question why SCMP invites him to write! Albert should write in Apple Daily.
How About,
Aren't you curious why those hate-China characters here are so ready to jump into bed with anyone who bashes China? For these folks, the enemy of China is my best friend. They are willing to sell their mothers to find this kind of friends.
Mr. Cheng,
I am skeptical about your literacy level in interpreting the contents of the White Paper. Please tell us who your ghost writer is. I don’t think you're the author because this piece here bears no resemblance to the gutter putdowns that you meted out so generously to callers in your radio talk shows.
As for "lawyers...not accustomed to street action," you have just showed us that you haven’t visited anywhere else except Vancouver and Hong Kong. In Paris, I saw with my own eyes demonstrating French lawyers in black garbs being hauled away into paddy wagons by the police.
If you get tired of badmouthing HK, there is your old haunt Vancouver. Now you are rich, your can easily buy a multimillion dig (in Canadian $) like some mainlanders living high off the hog with laundered money. Except this time for you, it will be 衣錦榮歸 to Canada. You can avoid the embarrassment telling your friends and neighbors you're an aeronautical engineer when you were actually servicing landing gears at the airport.
Another bonus. A rich HK Chinese like you could easily afford a white maid or two. You no longer have to tell people the woman answering the phone in your house is the maid. Did you ever let your mother know that she was demoted by you to a domestic?
Just another Chinese city is just white propaganda in the same derogatory way they used to claim all the Chinese look the same and cannot be distinguished.
You don't hear any of them bang on about how Chicago is just another American city or Manchester is just another UK city.
A high degree of autonomy of not the same as absolute degree of autonomy, any idiot knows that.




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