Hong Kong NPC delegates face major challenges amid Beijing changes
Hong Kong candidates must speak up for the people as Beijing keeps closer tabs on the city
In 10 days time, Hong Kong will have a new batch of 36 delegates to China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC). But what role this elite group can play is open to discussion.
Delegates to the NPC, in theory, have two roles in addition to legislative duties: supervising the work of the central government and of local governments. But not for Hong Kong delegates, who have no role in local government.
Under "one country, two systems", Hong Kong has its own legal system, and laws passed by the NPC do not apply to this city. Hong Kong NPC delegates are, therefore, banned from commenting on local government affairs. It is seen as a logical consequence of Beijing's guarantee of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".
Thus, Hong Kong delegates can only be involved in state affairs. Despite frequent requests to institutionalise their work by setting up a permanent NPC delegate Hong Kong office, they have been turned down. Earlier, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Hong Kong's only delegate to the powerful Standing Committee of the NPC, wanted to open a personal website in her official capacity to collect feedback from Hongkongers on various issues. The plan was aborted after she was "gently reminded" that it may not be appropriate.
Having said that, local delegates can act as a bridge between Hong Kong people and Beijing, which is important amid growing tensions.
But how can they do this? Candidates for NPC delegate election need to consider this question, because it is likely the future NPC chairman, Zhang Dejiang, will also be in charge of Hong Kong affairs. What does this mean for Hong Kong? In March, Zhang, ranked third in the new leadership line-up, will take up this task.
The job used to be the vice-president's and was Xi Jinping's responsibility. The change is not accidental; it reflects the complexity of the situation. A recent article by the deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Xiaoming, gave some important clues about the motive for the change. One key point he made was that Beijing wanted to see the proper exercise of the Basic Law. This included the NPC's power to scrutinise laws passed by Legco, Beijing's power in appointing the chief executive, and having the chief executive make regular duty visits to Beijing.
Zhang Xiaoming's comments were widely interpreted as a warning by Beijing about the chief executive election in 2017, when universal suffrage will most likely be introduced.
How to interpret the Basic Law is a controversial issue in Hong Kong. To Beijing, given this mini constitution was promulgated by the NPC, the NPC has the ultimate right to interpret any legislative intent.
With the NPC chairman overseeing Hong Kong, Beijing's stance has shifted. It is not just Zhang Dejiang's personality - he is known as being tough and firm - but his capacity as head of the legislature. Without a doubt, Beijing will keep a closer eye on Hong Kong in the name of better implementation of the Basic Law.
As such, Hong Kong delegates do need to actively voice people's concerns. So it is good to see candidates from diverse backgrounds. They include former government officials, grass-roots representatives and pro-democracy candidates - even if their chances are slim.