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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

philpaul
These 'democracy' people are so full of themselves. HK is either casually dismissed or treated in all academia arenas as an inconvenience to the wider debate about China, Taiwan, and Tibet - the same way Xinjiang is treated.
shouken
Russia's credibility and global influence will be severely compromised if Putin did not have the gut to face off the Western Alliance in the still ongoing Ukraine crisis. I trust Beijing will not cave in to the democracy cultists in Hong Kong, now or 2017. Although I hope the cool heads would prevail, I certainly would enjoy seeing massive showdown in Central. Let's hope the show be not too short or boring.
ntmount
Absolutely correct. Remember 'people power ' still rules in HK. Beijing is highly unlikely to take that on with blunt force due to a certain fierce global backlash.
If they do, China's credibility and global influence will be severely affected. HK would be a mess for 5-10 years. The next six months will be pivotal. Hopefully cool heads prevail.
lamlm38
So whine until Beijing gives in.. is that the strategy here Anson?
the sun also rises
What our Conscience of Hong Kong, Mrs Anson Chan said is absolutely right. The world is watching closely whether we would be allowed a geniune universal suffrage in 2017 and whether Beijing authorities is sincere in her promise to allow Hongkongers to enjoy full democracy. Just wait and see the outcome of it.
lamlm38
If the commies didnt give a hood about wasting few hundred peaceful demonstrators lives in Tian An Men did you really think all this whining gonna make a difference?
johnyuan
In my observation, Rule of Law as claimed by Hong Kong is highly overblown. Aside from very good in upholding contract laws other laws are either too old or only selectively applied.
.
I will even discount the Hong Kong’s contract laws. They don’t serve the consumers very well. The laws are made to serve the businesses which mainly to attract foreign companies to set up their office in Hong Kong.
.
As such, it is fooling ourselves and the world that Rule of Law is universal in Hong Kong. So much less without clarification to claim Rule of Law is a core value. Whoever trumpets it loosely is simply a liar.
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.
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.
johnyuan
‘The world is watching.’
.
I want something closer at home.
.
For making Hong Kong a more livable city, I will focus on local problems which are the making of its own which have little to do with cross border politics. I will focus on the property sector which has been the primary scrooge making Hong Kong a dog eat dog society since the 70s. I will focus on the tourism sector of the latest scrooge – a carbon copy of the property sector. Finally I will focus on the Civil Servants who aren’t as civic minded as they should.
.
Here the two sectors plus the Civil Servants want desperately to keep Hong Kong for themselves without any slightest change to undermine their interest.
.
A better Hong Kong for tomorrow should also be watching the leaders of these self-interests. Focus on them.

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