Opposing China’s socialist system flouts Hong Kong’s Basic Law
Qiao Xiaoyang, in a recent speech, explains that Hong Kong, as a special administrative region of China’s unitary system, is not above the Chinese constitution. It must support the nation’s goal for national rejuvenation, understand the hierarchy of the relationship between China’s constitution and the Basic Law, and accept the leadership of the Communist Party
Organisers of the forum have asked me to speak on China’s constitution, its amendments, and the relationship between the constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law. I will address some issues pertaining to these topics.
First, what is the essence of our constitution and its key characteristics? The last paragraph of the preamble of the constitution provides the answer. It reads: “This constitution, in legal form, affirms the achievements of the struggles of the Chinese people of all nationalities and defines the basic system and basic tasks of the state; it is the fundamental law of the state and has supreme legal authority.”
From the perspective of comparative constitutional law, this sentence can be interpreted on three levels.
The first is that any national constitution is the fundamental law of the country. In this regard, our constitution is no different from those of other countries.
The second is that the constitution in any country defines the basic system of the country. The basic system of our country, according to our constitution, is socialism. To be exact, it is socialism with Chinese characteristics. This is very different from the basic systems of other countries.
The third level is, in my view, the most important. The constitutions of other countries, especially those of Western countries, usually do not specify the country’s fundamental task but our constitution specifies it. This basic task in fact determines what the basic system should be. This is the major difference between our constitution and those of others.
Thus, the essence of our constitution is the basic task. It is for the purpose of accomplishing this task that the socialist system was made the basic system. In our constitution, the country’s basic task and its basic system are closely linked. This is a distinctively Chinese characteristic – one rooted in our history, circumstances and experience.
Our constitution lays out the historic mission for all Chinese from different ethnic groups, uniting them for the goal of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
And an important part of this historic mission is the restoration of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong, while ensuring the city’s long-term prosperity and stability. As the constitution requires, Hong Kong was recovered through peaceful means as part of our push for the reunification of the motherland. In the process, the city has remained prosperous and stable, and the basic rights and freedoms of its residents are protected. In the handling of the Hong Kong issue, China could be said to have achieved great success.
Hong Kong independence won’t be tolerated
Here, I must address the issue of “Hong Kong independence”. I am deeply saddened by the emergence in recent years of radical forces advocating Hong Kong independence. If you understand the modern history of struggle of the Chinese people, you will know that the notion of Hong Kong independence goes against the collective will of the people and is fundamentally unconstitutional. It can never be tolerated.
Some people in Hong Kong say there is no need to be nervous because Hong Kong independence would never succeed. That is true. Throughout the years of their trials and tribulations, the Chinese people have never lost their determination and will to safeguard national unity. Now that the country is growing stronger, can the notion of Hong Kong independence prevail? No way.
And some say advocacy of Hong Kong independence is protected by freedom of speech. Conspiracy and incitement to split up the country is just freedom of expression? No such reasoning would be acceptable in any part of the world.
The question of Hong Kong independence is not about its feasibility or the right to free speech. It is a question of Chinese people’s feelings and the constitution. For thousands of years, Chinese people’s will to safeguard national unity has never wavered. This is why the push for independence has been met with public outrage in Hong Kong. If we allow such advocacy to continue, it will eventually jeopardise the “one country, two systems” undertaking and harm the interests of all Hong Kong people.
China’s constitution, which adheres to the path of practising socialism with Chinese characteristics, reflects the will of the people.
It will take the country 100 years, beginning from 1949, to transform itself from a poverty-stricken society into a modern power. To accomplish this historic task of national rejuvenation, China must find its own way. We can use the development experience of Western countries as a reference, but their growth models cannot resolve the problems we face.
A fair assessment of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’
The constitution thus reflects our experience of practising socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Our current constitution came into effect in 1982, and was amended in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004, adding a total of 31 amendments. If we hold up these amendments against a timeline of the country’s reform and opening up, we will see that each amendment has played a major role in pushing forward national development.
The constitution was revised for the fifth time in March this year. The main significance of this revision is that it provides the constitutional support for the nation’s drive to become a moderately prosperous society by 2020, and a powerful socialist country by mid-century.
I have the idea that some Hong Kong people are put off by the phrase “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. If they were to calm down and study the content of the president’s political theory, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, they may gain some new insights. As a Chinese taking the perspective of Chinese people, they should ask themselves: which part of this vision does not reflect the people’s aspirations, and which is difficult to accept? The answer is, none of them.
The hierarchy of the mainland-Hong Kong relationship
Finally, the constitution plays a vital role in the implementation of the Basic Law. We must first understand the nation’s constitution before we can understand the Basic Law and how to implement it, and resolve any legal questions that may arise during its implementation.
The following two points must be understood when studying the constitution.
First, the constitution upholds the principle of a unitary system for China, and makes clear that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of this unitary country. This principle safeguards national unity, and addresses the basic principles of the relationship between the central and local governments. A deep understanding of this principle is the key to correctly understanding the Basic Law in terms of the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong.
Second, the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Hong Kong is a special administrative region in China, practising capitalism within a socialist country. The hierarchy of this relationship must be clear to all; the order cannot be reversed. The central government is steadfast in its implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy, and will not change Hong Kong's capitalist system. At the same time, it will not allow some people to use Hong Kong to change the country’s socialist system.
To uphold the constitution, the mainland government must protect the mainland’s socialist system, which is the primary body, and Hong Kong’s capitalist system, which is the secondary body, at the same time.
On its part, Hong Kong practises capitalism only on the condition that it supports the country’s implementation of the socialist system and contributes to the development of this socialist system – this is a legal boundary it cannot cross.
Since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, some people in the city have openly opposed the socialist system in China. This contravenes the Basic Law, and is unconstitutional. In accordance with the Basic Law, which draws its power from the constitution, no person has the right to oppose the country’s fundamental system.
The leadership of the Communist Party is a defining feature
I want to stress the importance of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. At the close of the 13th National People's Congress annual session, President Xi said no matter how senior in position, all government officials should firmly keep in mind that we are the People’s Republic of China. The president asked all officials to always put the people in the most prominent place in their hearts, always serve the people wholeheartedly, and always work hard for the people's interests and happiness.
His words reflect well the party’s mission and true qualities. The Chinese people support the Communist Party, which is wholeheartedly serving people and leading them in nation-building. The party seeks happiness for the people rather than its own interests.
Hong Kong is a capitalist society, but don’t Hong Kong residents, as part of the Chinese nation, find it worthwhile to support the party?
Leaving aside the issues of ideology and prejudices, I believe the answer is “yes”. Certainly, Hong Kong residents, like others in in our multi-ethnic country, have the right to scrutinise the party’s words and deeds to see whether it is fulfilling its pledges faithfully. The party has always welcomed such scrutiny.
The party’s leadership is a historical choice and a people’s choice. This is why the preamble in our constitution affirms the party’s leadership role, and it is why a clause was added to the amendment: “The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Therefore, the leadership of the party is also part of the constitutional system. When one respects the constitution, upholds the constitution, and abides by the constitution, one should also respect, support and follow the leadership of the party.
Qiao Xiaoyang is a former chairman of the National People’s Congress Law Committee. This is an edited excerpt of his speech on April 28, at a seminar marking the 28th anniversary of the adoption of the Hong Kong’s Basic Law