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  • Dec 19, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong must stick with the Basic Law

Regina Ip says the Occupy Central movement is falsely promising a vision for Hong Kong that in fact contravenes both the letter and spirit of the constitution that has served us so well

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 2:15am

Almost 30 years after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong, and more than 15 years after the implementation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's development appears to have reached a crossroads. As 2017, the promised date for electing Hong Kong's chief executive by universal suffrage, draws near, calls to "occupy Central" as a means of putting pressure on Beijing to embrace a democratic selection method threaten to derail the implementation of the Basic Law.

On the face of it, who can decry the siren calls of seemingly righteous intellectuals dedicated to fighting for Hong Kong people's right to choose their chief? On deeper analysis, however, the Occupy Central movement is fraught with danger.

First and foremost, the movement amounts to a rejection of the Basic Law and the political reality underlying Hong Kong's status as a special administrative region of China. For more than 100 years under British rule, Hong Kong was governed using the classic colonial model, with executive and legislative powers concentrated in the hands of the governor and appointed officials. Hong Kong people never had any say in the choice of their leader.

The advent of 1997 forced the British to introduce democratic reform, albeit belatedly in the 1980s, as a check on Beijing's power. In the course of the Sino-British negotiations on the future of Hong Kong, Beijing agreed that the chief executive shall be "selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government".

Later on, after listening to the representations of Hong Kong people, Beijing further agreed to cast in stone, in the fine print of article 45 of the Basic Law, its commitment that the "ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

Granted, in the eyes of the British negotiators, the provisions for selecting the chief executive fell short of the British wish to turn Hong Kong's political structure into a parliamentary government, as in other former colonies. Yet, given Hong Kong's constitutional and historical status as an inalienable part of China, the arrangements in the Basic Law, if successfully implemented in an orderly manner, would give Hong Kong people the greatest say in choosing their chief and the most democratic system they have ever enjoyed.

Turning now to the Occupy Central movement, under the mantra of "Let Love and Peace Occupy Central", the organisers plan to formulate proposals for electing the chief executive in accordance with international standards and on the basis of popular deliberations, without regard to the letter and spirit of the Basic Law. In so doing, they are effectively jettisoning the political arrangements that have been enshrined in the de facto constitution.

The Basic Law has in the past 15 years ensured the continuation of the Hong Kong way of life under "one country": Hong Kong people have become more critical of their government and more ready to exercise their rights and freedoms than ever; Hong Kong's media, including many independent online forums, more irreverent and influential; and Hong Kong's political system, despite the government's best efforts to remain "executive-led" as in the colonial era, more decentralised than ever. The introduction of universal suffrage is no doubt the last missing piece of the jigsaw fulfilling the democratic method.

In essence, thanks to the implementation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has in the past 15 years evolved into a highly democratic society with strong rule of law, a feisty civil society and a highly competitive political culture, all being hallmark ingredients of democratic rule. Throw away the Basic Law and Hong Kong could end up losing the constitutional basis for its continuous, robust development under "one country".

The reference to international standards is gratuitous in that the international covenant guaranteeing Hong Kong people's civil and political rights is already anchored in article 39 of the Basic Law. The call for a "deliberation day" to discuss and formulate electoral proposals, purportedly originating from the "deliberative polling" model pioneered by Stanford University professor James Fishkin, is misleading in that there will be no random selection of participants in the Hong Kong exercise, nor will "balanced reference materials" - prominently the Basic Law and related documents - be made available. The selection bias of the organisers would skew the discussions.

As always, "Power to the People" has a seductive appeal to those who allow their emotions to take control, and such numbers could be legion. Yet reality and history tell us that anarchy could be let loose if the centre cannot hold.

It is for good reason that, as early as in the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes saw the Leviathan state as the solution to anarchy, allowing people to secure private property and build a community. States and societies are built on constitutions, and our constitution provides the basis for a bright future for Hong Kong to materialise. Let us treasure that and not throw it away.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party


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Colonial Hong Kong was administered by a government appointed by elected officials in the UK. The Colonial administration allowed millions of refugees and other immigrants to enter Hong Kong during its rule. Clearly, the local population eventually outnumbered those from the UK who called Hong Kong their home, which would have made the continuation of colonial rule an impossibility under unversal sufferage.
But, there had been many reforms and over time more and more local people were allowed to particiapate in the political process. Once it was clear that the UK would be abandoning Hong Kong, protecting the system under British rule was no longer necessary, and electrorial reforms were implimented.
The Joint Declaration was certainly a compromise that resulted in the finite consitution known as the Basic Law. Every good natured citizen is aware that the Mainland Chinese model is not correct for China or HK and thus HK must preserve the system bequethed to it or risk losing it forever. China has nothing to protect in Hong Kong. Its clear the people will elect somebody of Chinese ancestry. For them the problem is that he/she must think like they do and such a filtered form of democracy is unacceptable in today's world. Regina Ip is quite wrong and although she attempts to make her point, I doubt that she or others in the government udnerstand the will of the HK people and what may happen should a sham election be held.
Not all illiterates are shameless like him. A Confucius aphorism I learned from my father in my boyhood fits him to a tee: 愚而好自用賤而好自專.
Interestingly, this saying applies equally well to academic airheads like Benny Tai and folks brainwashed in one-man-one-vote as the only means to select leaders in government.
hard times !
whymak is definitely a foolish but self-felt important guy while humble but appears highly self-respectful as an old Chinese saying goes.Pity on him/her.amen.
As far as politcs goes, the Hong Kong government clearly is independent of Beijing, due to its status as a Special Administrative Region, which gives it political autonomy under the Basic Law. The only reason universal sufferage has not occured up until now is because the Basic Law states that it can occure after 2007. In the end, of course, CHina can do whatever it wants and even trash the Basic Law and there is nothing anybody can do about it. China can also destroy the viability of Hong Kong and ruin its link tothe outside world. I see smoke on the horrizon.
hard times !
what is wrong with using different usernames or pen names to express oneself in an open forum such as this 'Comment' column provided by our respectable and not yet 'Red' China Morning Post ? May I ask ?
A reader said, " ...Revenend Chu Yiu-ming, a respectable old priest in town who once helped the democracy campaign activists who fled Hong Kong to move overseas..."
Is he suggesting that Rev. Chu is one of those subversives who smuggled dissidents out of China? For his sake, I hope he had only helped naïve student leaders who opposed China's policies to get "scholarships" in American universities -- for which I have no objection, but not involved in smuggling out of China rioters who had murdered and incinerated PLA soldiers alive during 6/4, 1989.
Did Rev. Chu get his funds from Cardinal Zen transferred from James Lai Chee Ying? This came to light 2 years ago as potential money "laundering"-- defined here as money of unknown origin and/or funds intended for undisclosed dubious purpose. If those funds could be proven for subversive activities in China, our Basic Law won't be able to protect them under one country two systems.
Lai Chee Ying and Cardinal Zen had better watch out. ICAC is constantly investigating money laundering. If the recent heavy prison sentence for the lowly mules serves as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, you can be sure that they have already secured domicile in another country where they won't be threatened by China or Hong Kong request for extradition.
By George! Regina's got it! ""Power to the People"..a seductive appeal...(will) take control, and such numbers could be legion....anarchy could be let loose if the centre cannot hold."
Reality is already here. Pan democrats have already started a sectarian war among themselves within the Democracy religion. Although history never repeats itself -- at least Beijing won't allow it, brain dead pseudo intellectuals like Benny Tai and religious freaks like Chu Yu Ming are now waging a Thirty Year Hate-China War against the rest of us Hong Kongers.
With PLA here to back up our timid constabulary, allow me to be smug with those self-hate readers of your column, who have demonstrated obvious intent to throw our hometown into anarchy. Here is how I take a cue from Dirty Harry: "Go ahead and make my day!"
Maybe if HK Police is finally doing its job by putting Benny Tai into a paddy wagon, I would have my last say, "Feeling lucky today? Punk!"
Are you suggesting that Rev. Chu is one of those subversives who smuggled dissidents out of China? For his sake, I hope he was only helping naïve student leaders who opposed China's policies to get "scholarships" in American universities -- for which I have no objection, but not for rioters who had murdered and incinerated PLA soldiers alive during 6/4, 1989.
Did Rev. Chu get his funds from Cardinal Zen, who got it from James Lai Chee Ying? If those funds are proven to be funds intended for subversion in China, our Basic Law won't be able to protect them under one country two systems.
"China has nothing to protect in Hong Kong." Who else but you is cutting his nose to spite his face?
pflim040 can you stop posting on 30 different usernames? We know it's you because your writing style is rather obvious.



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