Zhang's speech shows growing impatience with a defiant Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 12:01am

The comments by Zhang Xiaoming , head of the central government's liaison office, about Hong Kong's governance have proved controversial.

Many people clearly feel that Hong Kong's liberal values are threatened and that there will be a further erosion of judicial independence and the rule of law. Government officials in the SAR continue to ward off these contentious accusations, and some lawmakers say Zhang's speech is a reiteration of the Basic Law, that the separation of powers remains in force with checks and balances between the three branches.

The city's judicial independence will not simply vanish overnight. Any attempt to do this would lead to an international outcry and mass demonstrations here. What is important is to look at the underlying meaning of Zhang's speech and the reasons for it. In effect, the central government is sending us signals on three topics.

First, Beijing's leaders are concerned about an increasingly defiant Hong Kong, for example, last year's Occupy Central protests. Zhang's speech is reminding us that the central government has ultimate jurisdiction over the SAR. It is a way of telling Hongkongers who is boss.

Second, the speech sends a strong message, calling for an end to the efforts being made to hinder the work of the SAR administration through endless filibustering and judicial reviews.

By highlighting the SAR's executive-led system, it is urging lawmakers and judges to stop compromising the administrative efficiency of the government by over-exercising their rights regarding checks and balances.

Third, by describing the chief executive as the core of the executive and having a special legal position that transcends the three branches, China's leaders are saying Leung Chun-ying has their full support.

I do not see Zhang's speech as a surprise attack, but in line with a series of moves by Beijing.

Looked at in conjunction with the white paper on Hong Kong and the proposals announced on August 31 last year on the election of chief executive in 2017, I see a gradual hardening of the stance of Beijing and its reluctance to make concessions. It is becoming increasingly active in the internal affairs of the SAR.

When looking at Zhang's speech, we should not overreact. But we should be aware, when it comes to "one country, two systems", that there is an element of impatience on the part of Beijing regarding the 50-year lifespan of the "two systems".

Toby Yeung, Sha Tin