Hong Kong must iron out 'one country, two systems' as early as 2030, warns former chief justice
Former chief justice says future of 'one country, two systems' concept must be resolved long before 2047 as he defends city's rule of law
Hong Kong will have to decide the future of "one country, two systems" long before the special administrative region's founding principle is due to expire, and possibly as early as 2030, former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang says.
At the same time the city should cling to the rule of law with an independent judiciary as a core value that must "never be shaken", he said.
Li was speaking amid concerns about the future of the legal system after harsh criticism of local judges by former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie and suggestions by some Basic Law experts that all judges in the top court should be Chinese nationals - remarks rejected by current justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.
Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping promised in the 1980s that Hong Kong's economic system and civil liberties would remain unchanged for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
Li told guests and law undergraduates at the University of Hong Kong yesterday that "the future of 'one country two systems' would have to be discussed and settled within one country well before the end of the 50 years in 2047, probably around 2030".
He also said that amid economic and political changes in Hong Kong and the phenomenal economic growth of mainland China, "we must hold steadfast to the core value of the rule of law with an independent judiciary. This core value must never be shaken and must always remain sacrosanct and immutable".
Li did not make reference to any of the recent discussions on the legal system in his speech and refused to elaborate afterwards.
But a political commentator said he thought the former top judge was expressing his concerns over the controversial remarks.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a former journalist who covered the negotiations over Hong Kong's sovereignty in the 1980s, said he believed that Li wanted to raise residents' awareness of the issue.
But he said Deng's 50-year promise had been made to ease Hong Kong people's fear of change likely to be brought by the handover and had not been mentioned by Beijing since Deng's death.
Lau said there were already signs that Beijing wanted to have more control over the city's education system and media now, well before 2047. Therefore, it could not be considered a solid deadline.
Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, a former member of the committee that drafted the Basic Law, said discussion should only be about whether Beijing was willing to extend "one country, two systems" by a further 50 years, which he recalled Deng had said he was willing to do.
"Mainland China has no rule of law now," Lee said. "How can we bring [our legal system] in line with China's? If it is so, our rule of law will be over."