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Basic Law

The Basic Law was drafted as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration covering Hong Kong after its handover to China on July 1, 1997. The joint declaration stated that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of ‘one country-two systems’ and would continue to enjoy its capitalist system and individual freedoms for 50 years after the handover.

CommentInsight & Opinion

World is watching the outcome of Hong Kong's democracy fight

Anson Chan says whether or not Hong Kong can maintain its freedoms and achieve genuine democracy is a matter of international concern - and a test of Beijing's sincerity under Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:52am

When Martin Lee and I decided to undertake our recent trip to the United States and Canada in response to invitations from the Asia Society and the Asia Pacific Foundation, we knew to expect a barrage of criticism from the central government authorities and pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong. It is nevertheless dispiriting that, yet again, Chinese state media are focused more on shooting the messengers than listening to the message.

Standing up for the promises in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy" does not mean we are standing against China. On the contrary, we made this trip because we both still feel passionately that "one country, two systems" - Deng Xiaoping's inspired concept for reuniting Hong Kong with the motherland - is a unique form of governance that must be cherished and safeguarded at all costs. Being proud and patriotic Chinese does not mean that Hong Kong people must resign themselves to a creeping erosion of their core values and way of life so fundamentally distinct from those of the mainland.

The maintenance of "one country, two systems" and the achievement of genuine democracy in Hong Kong are not simply matters for China. The Joint Declaration is an internationally binding treaty, lodged with the United Nations, for which the United Kingdom and China solicited the widest possible international support.

While it is primarily the responsibility of the two signatories to ensure that its terms are strictly observed, it is also in the wider interests of the international community that Hong Kong's special qualities and role as a bridge between the mainland and the world are preserved.

The United States and Canada, in particular, have enormous stakes in the special administrative region. Both have large numbers of their nationals residents here - more than 300,000 in the case of Canada - as well as substantial financial investments, trade and commercial interests, educational, cultural and family ties. Their close bonds with Hong Kong are founded on shared values: the rule of law, clean and accountable government, human rights, a level playing field for business, and the maintenance of key freedoms of assembly, religion and of the press.

During a packed schedule of appointments in North America we met senior government officials and politicians in Washington and Ottawa, briefed the editorial boards of leading newspapers, met with key think tanks and participated in stimulating exchanges with knowledgeable audiences at public seminars in New York, Washington, Toronto and Vancouver. Many we spoke to expressed deep shock at recent violent attacks on journalists and concern at other threats to press freedom as evidenced by abrupt sackings of high-profile editors and commentators and pressure on businesses to withdraw advertising from independent media.

In Toronto and Vancouver, we reached out to the local Chinese communities by means of media briefings, radio phone-ins and open public forums that attracted several hundred participants. During these forums, we were struck by the close emotional attachment Hong Kong Chinese Canadians still feel towards the territory and by how well informed they are about what is happening here. Many of the people spoke candidly of their concerns for the maintenance of Hong Kong's freedoms, lifestyle and for the achievement of genuine universal suffrage.

In these briefings and discussions, we strived to present a balanced picture. We stressed that Hong Kong's economy is doing well and that the rule of law still prevails - a factor vital to the maintenance of business confidence. However, we were forced to point out that the blatant interference by the central government's liaison office, in all aspects of government and community life in Hong Kong, must give cause for concern as to how long our freedoms can hold out.

Such meddling is in direct contravention of Article 22 of the Basic Law, which states: "No department of the Central People's Government ... may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law", something those people who habitually preach the importance of the strict observance of the terms of the Basic law would do well to remember.

Above all, our message was that Hong Kong is at a watershed in its history. If Hong Kong people's aspirations for genuine democracy are thwarted once again, the city will not only become increasingly ungovernable but will face the possibility of serious social unrest.

A raft of proposals has been put forward in response to the government's consultation. My own group, Hong Kong 2020, has sought to broker a compromise while ensuring that when Hong Kong people elect their chief executive by universal suffrage, in 2017, they have a genuine choice of candidates and the outcome of the election is not rigged by the screening out of candidates who do not meet with Beijing's approval.

Almost without exception these proposals have been knocked back by parties who see their primary role as preserving their own vested interests at the expense of the general population. These parties need to understand that achievement of genuinely democratic government, as promised to Hong Kong people under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, is a crucial litmus test of China's sincerity in honouring its international treaty obligations. The world is watching.

Anson Chan, a former chief secretary in the Hong Kong government, is convenor of Hong Kong 2020

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This article is now closed to comments

A Hong Konger
Talk of "passionately" believing in the Basic Law and China as the "motherland" may have resonance with Beijing party officials and HK people in their 50s. But it rings hollow to the rest of us that do not have romantic views of China or "Chineseness", who are not happy to be Chinese colonial subjects or don't define themselves in narrow ethnic nationalist terms. To the new generation, cut adrift, marginalised, bullied and alienated, they have no golden age to look back to, no awe at China's rise, rather an indignity that they have no say in their future. They have a sense of entitlement to a worthy identity, to command their own future, to establish themselves as a people in their own right, and not be a "bridge" for China to trample over. The one country, two systems experiment is proving a failure, the fact that Beijing would use it as an instrument of our oppression was never in doubt, what is surprising (but shouldn't have been) is that the HK people (young and old) are reacting to the structure we've inherited with growing outrage and action that would never have occurred to the previous generation: As Hong Kongers.
For all the sacrifice Ms. Chan & Mr. Lee have made, they risk getting left behind quibbling with Beijing, who will never yield, over a failed experiment. For my part, I hope to see them in central in July, I hope to see you all, my fellow Hong Kongers, there, as we fight for a future worth living. If we do nothing we will loose the little we have left.
skywalker
Dear Mr. Chan. Thank you very much for this article and the insight into your thoughts. I would just like to ask you what you think the the "international community" would do if, China would harshly put down the democracy movement in Hong Kong? Even think about what will happen if China would flex its "PLA Muscle" in Hong Kong, for example against campaigns like "occupy central", if they would ever take place? The recent events in the Ukraine showed us that the so called "international community" would perhaps care much less than you think. There might be some sabre-rattling and the some finger pointing to China in the tone of "Hey, that is not nice what you do in Hong Kong, you should obey the Sino-British Declaration" or so, but that's it. After Angela Merkel started talking about possible sanctions against Russia, because of the Crimea annexation, a massive lobby of German businesses stopped her, because they said that the business of 6000 German companies in Russia is definitely more important than a political stance in the Ukraine conflict.
I believe the same scenario will apply to any similar development between Hong Kong and China. And as a matter of fact, almost every European who is not directly connected to Hong Kong has no clue about the special status of HK within China. "I thought that Honk Kong belongs to China, why is there still a border?" That's what I hear in Europe many times...
321manu
To Mikado,
having "shared" values doesn't mean having completely identical values. It is a non-sequitur to suggest that US interest in HK's democratic evolution need be reciprocated by HK support of the Iraq invasion...even if Iraq was happening tomorrow rather than 10 years plus ago. And really, this is a couple of emissaries going abroad to speak to some politicos and citizens. US gov't officials granting an audience is "interference"? Are we applying Dalai Lama standards here?Let's go easy on the panic button. If you think Chan meeting with Pelosi and Biden will actually result in "interference", then you're giving Chan way more credit than she ever could have imagined.
Yes, going to Beijing does seem like a good idea. However, a bunch of folks just went to Shanghai and got nowhere, as expected. Is breathing the Beijing air uniquely conducive to cobbling together compromise agreements?
ianson
And for that reason, Hongkongers must stand up for themselves. Occupy Central will be our last hope of extracting democracy from the bandits in Beijing.
hm03
The question here is perception -
Sure, you can argue on and on that the British never gave HK democracy, but it did make HK into a very mature society. They helped make up prosperous, alongside with free speech, free press, free assembly and the likes. Admittedly, this happened towards their latter part of the rule in the city, but at the very minimum, they did make it happen.
The government pre-97 was at least more transparent - at the very minimum, by perception - than it has ever been now. The level of trust towards the HK government is at an all time low - which was never the case during the latter part of British rule.
The British helped build our infrastructure - soft and hard - to make the city what it is today. Not only does the city benefit from it, but also capital-controlled China as it looks to internationalize its economy under a strong rule of law that is of Hong Kong.
The call for democracy was never as intense now as it had been during British rule simply because we trusted their rule, at least relative to what we have now.
If it wasn't the British who negotiated on behalf of Hong Kong to put that article into the basic law calling for universal suffrage, there would be nothing that we can fight for on our call for democracy now. Props must also be given to China for allowing the article to be included, but it is time that they also honoured the agreement.
We have a lot to thank the British for, and it would have been great if they did more.
hm03
ANSON CHAN FOR CHIEF EXECUTIVE 2017!
rpasea
Don't kid yourselves: Hong Kong is not a topic of much interest in the international community outside HK. It's importance has faded considerably since 1997.
A Hong Konger
skywalker: That will not happen, the entire issue is about keeping local problems local. It's the same across China, to keep local officials as the focus of the people's fury. If we could elect LEGCO and the CE, then the NPCSC in Beijing would have to be the one to reject constitutional reform and suddenly Beijing would be the enemy, not CY Leung. Using the PLA would defeat the purpose of what they're trying to achieve. Furthermore, should China fail to entice 7 million plump and (formally) docile Han Chinese to join the great experiment of China as a Empire-State, what legitimacy would it have with other Han people, to say nothing of more restive regions, Taiwan or within the party itself for that matter? More importantly, should the PLA intervene, the call for independence, currently an unlikely hope whispered in HK by most and call for by a few, but widely dismissed as unachievable, no matter how real Beijing perceives it, will become the rallying cry for countless generations of Hong Kongers. China would also have to contend with the HK police and 7 million Hong Kongers, China can barely contain 2m Tibetans and even fewer Uighurs.
In fact the Ukraine bears thinking about. Not Crimea, but the Donetsk. That is what China fears, ironically their ham fisted approach makes it closer to a reality every day, military action would only make it worse. For all their faults the CCP is not stupid, there is no utility in using force, so there will be no PLA intervention.
skywalker
A Hong Konger: You are absolutely right, but all what I am saying is, that "the world" would not risk its (economic) benefits from its relationship with China over democracy issues in Hong Kong. Even if China would act like a wild boar, nobody would come to Hong Kong's aid.
Mikado
Although the United States, Canada have enormous stakes in the SAR that doesn't give the US or the Canadian government any right to interfere in HK affairs. Similarly although China have trillions of dollars invested in US government bonds and hundred of thousands of Chinese nationals live in the US doesn't give China the right to interfere in US affairs. The principles of reciprocity should be applied in relations between sovereign nations. For Anson Chan and Martin Lee to go to the US to invite interference in HK affairs goes against this principle. Anson Chan talks of close bonds between Hong Kong, the US and Canada based on shared values. Does shared values means HK people should support the US in it's illegal invasion of Iraq? I beg to differ. Given the situation where the US pivot to Asia is premised on the US and her recalcitrant ally Japan trying to destabilise and contain China, as patriots of HK we should be standing together with China. For the 150 years of British colonialism there was no democracy in HK. In 1997 when HK returned to China, under the auspices of the Basic Law and One Country Two Systems, China gave HK democracy for the first time despite universal suffrage not being implemented till now. But that is only a matter of time. If Anson Chan and Martin Lee are really serious about democracy instead of playing politics with their ill-advised trip to the US they should really go to Government House to talk to the CE or go to Beijing.

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