White paper ignores non-interference principle of Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 5:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 5:03am

I refer to the letter from the Chief Executive's Office ("White paper reflects existing constitutional arrangements", June 18). Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will recall when we were colleagues on the Basic Law Consultative Committee and the strong support given to what I called the "Four Corners Principle".

This seeks to achieve, within the Basic Law's four corners, a clear differentiation and "separation" of the "two systems" in "one country". Mr Leung will agree that those who supported it, himself included, were not separatists.

National laws are excluded save for the few let in through a window opened within the Basic Law. The listed laws are confined to defence and foreign affairs and matters outside the SAR's autonomy (Article 18).

Further, Article 22 stipulates that no department of the central people's government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong SAR administers "on its own" in accordance with the Basic Law.

The white paper singularly fails to mention this non-interference principle. Compare this with what was stressed in 2000 by Qiao Xiaoyang, now chairman of the Law Committee of the National People's Congress.

He underlined differences rather than similarities between the SAR and ordinary local administrative regions. While referring to the unitary nature of the state, he was quick to distinguish between matters which are the central authorities' responsibility and those which are administered by the SAR "on its own".

The central authorities, he said, exercise "self-restraint" with respect to powers not conferred on the SAR. Both "one country" and "two systems" must be safeguarded and "one aspect cannot be stressed to the neglect of another".

The white paper, sadly, fails the test: it has - by what it says and does not say - stressed the state's unitary nature and "comprehensive jurisdiction" to the detriment of the SAR's high degree of autonomy. Its attempt to introduce an ambiguous requirement of "patriotism" as a qualification for those administering the SAR (including judges) militates against judicial independence, separation of powers and the rule of law.

Autonomy, like virginity, once lost cannot be retrieved. A full and generous grant to the SAR of a high degree of autonomy along with real democracy is, I believe, the most confident and best expression of China's sovereignty. Such will be conducive not only to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity but also the country's long-term unity, security and development and to loving Hong Kong and loving the country.

Denis Chang, SC, Admiralty