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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Given concerns over missing bookseller Lee Bo, it’s vital for all sides to respect Hong Kong’s Basic Law or confidence will crumble

Ho Lok Sang says it is in the interests of the Hong Kong and central governments that the SAR’s mini-constitution is upheld, and Beijing must act quickly to restore faith in ‘one country, two systems’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 4:55pm

The Basic Law is the foundation of “one country, two systems”. All parties, regardless of their political stance and their background, need to give it their full respect. This means that aberrations, for whatever reason, should not be tolerated. Only in this way can it command the trust of Hong Kong people. Only in this way can the integrity of the “one country, two systems” framework be preserved.

READ MORE: Hong Kong is right to worry about the disappearance of bookseller Lee Bo and his associates

Given the importance of this matter, I hope that legislators of all stripes, including those from the pro-establishment camp, can unite to request a clear directive from the central government to ensure that law enforcement agencies throughout the country which do not have jurisdiction in Hong Kong respect the Basic Law and stay away from the special administrative region.

It is now more than a year since the turmoil of the “umbrella movement”, a time when tens of thousands of Hong Kong people occupied the streets in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, demanding political reform in ways that sidestep the Basic Law. I was among the first to point out the silliness of the action. Not only were the occupiers abusing their powers as citizens, depriving other people of their legal rights and hurting their welfare, but their demands were also illegal.

Since the rule of law is basic to the cause of democracy, it is ironic that these occupiers claim they are pro-democracy. In truth, they are trying to dictate their wish to others and arbitrarily trespassing on other people’s legal rights.

By the same token, it has come to light that mainland police officers have reportedly taken custody of suspects in Hong Kong and shipped them to the mainland.

According to a report in the Southern City News, dated December 3, 2013, businessman Pan Weixi was captured by Guangdong police in Hong Kong and eventually charged and convicted on the mainland for economic crimes.

Pan may well have committed a crime and may well have deserved to be convicted and jailed. Indeed, he had been convicted of fraud in Hong Kong and sentenced to 21 months’ jail in 2001. The Guangdong police could and should have asked the Hong Kong police for help.

If there are no legal provisions for repatriation, the law should be changed to that effect, or alternatively, evidence could have been brought to the notice of the Hong Kong police, who could then have dealt with him according to the laws of Hong Kong.

Presently, the disappearance of five shareholders or key staff members of Causeway Bay Books is causing the Hong Kong public to worry greatly about the integrity of the Basic Law. In particular, they wonder whether their rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to publish, as provided under the Basic Law, are still protected.

It is in the interests of both the central and Hong Kong governments – apart from being in the best interests of Hong Kong people – that the integrity of the Basic Law is upheld. If Hong Kong people’s trust in the central government is further eroded, there will be little peace in Hong Kong. The younger generations are already highly sceptical of Beijing’s commitment to Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with “a high degree of autonomy”. If the central government cannot win the hearts of the Hong Kong people, and particularly of its young people, the future of the SAR will be bleak.

The Hong Kong public wonder whether their rights, as provided under the Basic Law, are still protected

A recent editorial in the Global Times is particularly disturbing. It stated that every country would, based on its own interests, find ways to circumvent local laws in order that people who are suspected of offending the laws of that country could be subject to an investigation. This is probably not the position of the central government, but it may be construed by some as such. There is little doubt that those who are used to criticising the central government will use the wording in the editorial to their advantage.

Similarly, legislators and commentators in the pro-establishment camp who are too zealous in “helping the cause” of Beijing may also be putting words into its mouth, and indirectly fuelling the opposition’s criticism of the central government.

READ MORE: Vanishing freedoms? Disappearance of bookseller Lee Bo raises questions about jurisdiction and rights in Hong Kong

The “one country, two systems” framework and rule of law are too important to be undermined in any way. It is important for the central government to make its position clear, to assure people in Hong Kong and observers around the world that it is serious in upholding the rule of law.

China is a big country and it is understandable that, from time to time, there are slip-ups. But Beijing can turn this into an opportunity and capitalise on it to tell the world that it is serious about the rule of law and “one country, two systems”.

Ho Lok Sang is adjunct professor of economics and honorary fellow at the Centre for Public Policy Studies, Lingnan University