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Basic Law

The Basic Law was drafted as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration covering Hong Kong after its handover to China on July 1, 1997. The joint declaration stated that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of ‘one country-two systems’ and would continue to enjoy its capitalist system and individual freedoms for 50 years after the handover.

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Adviser on Basic Law admits naivety on political activity and democracy

Dr Vincent Lo tells forum committee did not expect Hong Kong to become so politicised

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 4:37pm

A member of the committee which advised on the drafting of the Basic Law in the 1980s says he and his colleagues may have been too "optimistic" in "naively" believing that there would not be much political activity after the 1997 handover.

Dr Vincent Lo Hong-sui, who sat on the Basic Law Consultative Committee, which canvassed opinion on the mini-constitution from 1985 to 1990, made the comments yesterday at a forum on leadership and public policy organised by Oxford University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

On moves towards universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election, Lo warned that "even if we find a new election method supported by most, it will not be a panacea unless we can find the key to unlock" the stalemate between the executive branch and the legislature.

"We wrote an executive-led political system into the Basic Law, buttressing it with the civil service … [expecting civil servants] to run the government as before," said Lo, chairman of Shui On Holdings and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"The politicised atmosphere … today proves us wrong and it shows our ignorance and poor understanding of politics and democracy back then."

Lo said the crux of the structural problem concerning governance was the executive-legislature relationship and he suggested a future leader might break the logjam by forming an alliance with political parties. He called on Hongkongers to "go back to our fine tradition of pragmatism" and urged politicians to make "genuine" compromises.

Lo also lamented that a widening wealth gap had led Hongkongers, especially the young, to blame mainlanders for their "bleak life prospects".

Another speaker at the forum, Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, echoed Lo's views on the roots of social discontent.

Chow said about 1.3 million Hongkongers - nearly 40 per cent of the workforce, could be classified as the "new poor" as they earned between HK$10,000 and HK$20,000 a month yet could not claim welfare. The number was only about 1 million four to five years ago.

"The majority of them are below the age of 35 … they are setting up their families, and they are not entitled to any public housing or welfare benefits," said Chow, of the University of Hong Kong's social work department.

"They would like to ask, 'You are talking about faster economic growth, but for whom? Housing development for whom?' Is it for developers to make more profits or to provide a decent flat for them," Chow said. "The last question is, 'Political development for whom?' The 'new poor' have found they have little say on the making of public policy."

Meanwhile, Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said yesterday that the plan for the 2017 election he proposed last month could be changed. For example, his idea of using preferential voting could be replaced by a run-off poll involving the top two candidates. He is inviting all lawmakers and four chambers of commerce to discuss the plan.

The story was updated at 11am, January 9 to clarify in the first paragraph that the Basic Law Consultative Committee advised on the drafting of the Basic Law, instead of drafting it. 

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam


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This article is now closed to comments

Unusually frank and helpful comments from one of the old timers. Good on him.
Dai Muff
"He called for the society to “go back to our fine tradition of pragmatism”, and indicated that politicians should prepare to make “genuine” compromise so that the city can have a workable political system."
The problem is that this is always codespeak for "ONE SIDE of the political divide should compromise." And it's not the pro-Beijing side.
I do not consider Mr. Lo to be a sympathetic character, but I think his comments on this subject are constructive and welcome.
A Hong Konger
'Naive' is the wrong word though 'ignorance' is right. Words like 'stupid', 'negligent', and 'arrogant' come to mind. 'Accountable to the people' would be nice, but that's more unlikely than universal suffrage without a fight.
How is it possible that, after the anti-colonial struggles of the mid 20th century, did any of the Basic Law drafters think this would not happen in Hong Kong? The basic law was drafted well after HK became a world class city. Just how long did you expect us to huddle 12 people to a government flat, fighting for scraps? Did you honestly believe millions of educated, worldly people would be obedient colonial subjects forever? And now you dare suggest we retrograde to a "fine tradition of pragmatism"? Just how stupid do you think we are? We are not obedient coolies you moguls wish we were, we are a people, we built this place and are worthy of self governance and a dignified living from the wealth we created as a society, just like anywhere else.
It is appalling that someone who helped created this unworkable constitutional disaster dare lecture us about economic competitiveness and housing (he didn't even mention poverty or universal suffrage) when he and his ilk runs the property in HK & plays golf on land in the NT that ought be used for public housing, and helped lock us into the massive structural political problems & economic inequalities we see today.
At least he had the guts to say he was wrong, but I can't think of a more obvious statement.
I certainly get where you're coming from, but I'm not sure I'd read Lo's comments the same way you do. I read it as him calling on HK's administrators, rather than the people, to change the way they do things.
Actually, I'm somewhat impressed that someone in his position acknowledges the fact that the framers didn't correctly anticipate HK's future and suggests a change of mindset. This itself is rare and, to me, welcome.
A Hong Konger
lexishk: I wish I could agree, but I can't see the Chairman of Shui On Holdings (a property company with mainland interests) & a delegate to the PCC making comments that would undermine Beijing or the SAR gov in any serious way or challenge the status quo, given how much he stands to loose.
Vincent Lo is no boorish fool like Gordon Wu & no ideologue like Tsang Yok-Sing. His statement was measured and conservative, suggesting 'society' (i.e., all of us, but not Beijing) regress to "pragmatism" (i.e, keeping quiet 1984 style) and for politicians to compromise - but that'll mean pro-Beijing LEGCO and CE candidates. For a money-man he must be going mad with frustration to admit mistakes were made, given he's toed the party line for decades. But his suggestions are for HK & the Pan-dems, not Beijing or it's United Front which he's part of.
HK is in serious crisis due to structural issues that go far deeper than just an exec-led gov. I believe many are doubting the 'one country, two systems' policy owing to the the BL drafting committees blindness, Beijing's ignorance, greed and ham-fisted policies, Britain's pre-97 indifference, the HKSAR gov's bumbling, economic vulnerabilities and our desire for the most basic of rights; a say in our own destiny. This was wholly predictable from 1982, my prediction is major confrontation is in the works unless China leaves us be or most HK people leave, but we're not going anywhere. If he had said that, I would have been more impressed.


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