Political hacks like me who have the misfortune of having to read official documents will get a sense of déjà vu while reading the most controversial part of the State Council's by now infamous white paper. That's part 5 titled "Fully and Accurately Understanding and Implementing the Policy of 'One Country, Two Systems'." In fact, you can skip all the prior sections unless you suffer from insomnia.
But, where have we read part 5 before? Wait a minute, a lot of it sounds like what was put out by the Hong Kong government's Commission on Strategic Development. In a long paper titled "Hong Kong's relationship with the Central Authorities/the Mainland", the section on "one country, two systems" reads suspiciously like a condensed version of part 5 of the white paper, but it was released more than two weeks ago.
Here are a few lines from the commission's paper that could have been straight from the white paper. "The HKSAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy but not absolute autonomy ... The Basic Law is a set of national laws enacted by the National People's Congress ... [It] is an enabling legislation in nature. Under the theory of the unitary state structure, all powers exercised by the municipalities are conferred by the Central Authorities. The executive, legislative and judicial powers exercised by the HKSAR are derived from the authorisation by the Central Authorities, and there is no so-called 'residual power'." So even judges are put in the same category as political administrators by Beijing, which is why the Bar Association has criticised the white paper.
This is interesting because it shows the Leung Chun-ying administration has already been properly indoctrinated so its principal officers are on the same page as their mainland masters. I had hoped that Leung and his officials could have the authority and integrity to serve as honest brokers between the pan-democrats and Beijing. It now looks like they will be no more than messenger boys and girls.
It is a widely held misconception that the Hong Kong government has always been under Beijing's thumb. Our first two chief executives actually exercised a lot more autonomy or at least were given greater leeway. Not so Leung, I am afraid.