Hong Kong Basic Law

Beijing and Hong Kong ‘must look at Basic Law from each other’s perspective’, justice minister says

Rimsky Yuen warns failure to do so could have 'negative effects' on cross-border cooperation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 September, 2015, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 8:31am

Beijing and Hong Kong must look at the Basic Law from each other’s perspective, or risk facing “negative effects” on cross-border cooperation, the justice minister has said.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung warned today that without such mutual understanding, the co-existence of “two systems”, under the “one country, two systems” principle, would be at risk.

The minister’s comments came a day after Beijing’s liaison office chief, Zhang Xiaoming, sparked a fresh political row by declaring Hong Kong’s top leader holds a position of authority above the executive, the judiciary and the legislature – effectively ending the notion of separation of powers in the city.

Read more: ‘Hong Kong leader is above the executive branch, legislature and courts’, says Beijing’s liaison chief

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Under the “one country, two systems” framework, Beijing promised that the mainland’s socialist system would not be practised in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover, and the city’s capitalist system would remain unchanged for 50 years. 

Yuen told Xinhua news agency that because the Basic Law was created under such a framework, it is “of utmost importance not to understand it from a single perspective”.

“It has to be read both from Hong Kong’s angle, as well as that of the central government, otherwise it is impossible to safeguard the co-existence of the ‘two systems’ under the ‘one country’ framework,” Yuen said. Xinhua did not specify whether the interview was conducted before or after Zhang’s controversial remarks.

Talking about cross-border exchanges between lawyers from the two jurisdictions, Yuen added: “If Hong Kong and the mainland don’t understand each other’s laws, adverse effects will result in their cooperation.”

Zhang’s comments alarmed pan-democrats, who accused Beijing of redefining the scope and status of the city’s chief executive, but Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed such concerns, insisting Zhang was not suggesting Hong Kong’s leader was “above the law”.

Read more: Legco president defends Hong Kong’s role in China after students burn copy of Basic Law

On Saturday, Zhang also said the separation of powers “is usually established in sovereign states”, and so it is “at best” only a reference for Hong Kong.

On a radio programme today, Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee tried to play down the controversy, suggesting Zhang was only reflecting Beijing’s concern about the lack of national identity among Hongkongers as well as the pan-democrats’ delaying tactics in the Legislative Council.

Ip noted that while Zhang’s assertion about the chief executive’s powers was part and parcel of Hong Kong’s constitutional set-up in theory, in practice the judiciary remained independent and Legco’s role in monitoring the government was in fact becoming stronger, as the pan-democrats’ filibustering showed.

Referring to Hong Kong’s football World Cup qualifier against Qatar on Tuesday, during which some local fans booed the national anthem for the third time this year, Ip said: “Mainland officials and residents are quite shocked.  It made them worried whether the ‘two systems’ [concept] would become a centrifugal force.”

Read more: Legal experts ponder Hong Kong 25 years after promulgation of Basic Law

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who attended the match, also touched on it in his weekly blog today. But instead of criticising fans for jeering at the March of the Volunteers, Tsang praised them for their passion.  

“From the fans’ unity in shouting ‘We are Hong Kong’ … and the players’ fighting spirit which gave every Hongkonger a sense of pride, we would all agree that it was a victory for Hong Kong even though we lost the game,” he wrote.

Ip and Tsang are regarded as possible candidates for the next chief executive election, but Ip today said it was too early for her to talk about running for the post in 2017.