Beijing must take care and respect the autonomy of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 10:16pm

The High Court judgment which disqualified four legislative councillors has reignited debate on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s power to interpret the Basic Law. Last November, the Standing Committee initiated its fifth interpretation, this time on the oath-taking saga in the Legislative Council.

Article 158 of the Basic Law clearly states that “the power of interpretation of this Law shall be vested” in the NPC Standing Committee. And the Court of Final Appeal, in the case of Lau Kong-yung in 1999, acknowledged that the Standing Committee can initiate interpretation even in the absence of litigation.

While I agree that it can indeed lawfully interpret any provisions in the Basic Law whenever it likes, I believe such a power should be exercised with restraint or the autonomy of Hong Kong may be eroded. The legal systems in Hong Kong and mainland China are very different. The NPC Standing Committee is a political body. The Hong Kong courts follow common law legal principles. A crisis may easily arise and there may be no legal certainty when the approaches to interpretation are different.

Moreover, there is a fine line between interpreting and amending the law. Some scholars are concerned that the Standing Committee’s power of interpretation may become a back door to amend the Basic Law. In theory, the Standing Committee shall consult the Basic Law Committee before it renders an interpretation. However, it can also completely ignore its opinion and turn it into a mere rubber stamp.

In the present legal framework, it seems that our autonomy largely depends on the self-restraint and voluntary goodwill of Beijing. I hope that the central government will keep an open mind and respect the autonomy of Hong Kong.

After all, China also has a substantial interest in ensuring Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy, as this is the only way our stability and prosperity can be maintained.

Jenny Fok, Fanling