Hong Kong Basic Law

Beijing should not be totally hands-off on Hong Kong, former leader Tung Chee-hwa says

In wake of interpretation row, former chief executive recalls paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s warning about events in the city which could harm the national interest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 11:25pm

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa cited late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in saying Beijing “should not be totally hands-off” from the city’s affairs after the 1997 handover, otherwise the nation or Hong Kong’s interest may be at risk.

The elder statesman, now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s top ­advisory body, was speaking days after Beijing issued an interpretation on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and effectively disqualified two pro-independence lawmakers from the Legislative Council.

Addressing a dinner organised by the Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank, which he founded and chairs, Tung said “all seven million Hong Kong residents are angry” about the two localists ­insulting China in their oath-taking last month.

“The majority of Hong Kong people gave up on the foolish acts that undermine national integrity and chose to return to the nation’s orientation,” Tung said.

“There is no market for Hong Kong independence.”

He said the National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpretation, which stated that lawmakers would face instant ­disqualification if they took their oath “insincerely”, would do Hong Kong “a hundred goods and not a single harm”.

“Hong Kong independence ... involves the issue of national unity,” he said. “The interpretation would stop people from exploiting any grey area and damaging Hong Kong’s rule of law.”

Watch: Chief executive backs Beijing’s Basic Law ruling

The legal profession claims the interpretation damages the city’s judicial independence, as it pre-empted a High Court ruling on a judicial review the government sought to disqualify Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, who made comments at their oath-taking considered insulting by many Chinese.

But Tung dismissed the ­argument, saying Beijing’s interpretative power is part of Hong Kong’s legal system.“In April 1987, Deng said ... ‘we must not think that everything will be fine if Beijing is completely hands-off on Hong Kong affairs, and left all those things for Hong Kong people to manage’,” Tung said.

“Deng said: ‘Would things that threaten the national interest take place in Hong Kong?’ ... Keeping some of Beijing’s power is only beneficial to Hong Kong, it would not do any harm.”

He also said he remained confident about the future because the “one country, two systems” ­principle had not changed.

“’One country, two systems’ and the Basic Law are the city’s root and origin ... Therefore we must tell the opposition camp and residents that we must ­seriously safeguard them, and will not allow the minority of independence advocates from doing any damage to these roots.”

Tung said that “one country”, or China, was the prerequisite for “two systems”, referring to the mainland’s socialist system and Hong Kong’s capitalist system.

He also said that as the “one country, two systems” principle was under challenge, “Hong Kong needs a broader vision and historical perspective, as well as a thinking that is oriented to China and not just to Hong Kong.”

His statement was regarded by pundits as a hint that he would support Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying’s re-election, as pro-Beijing politicians had described Leung as a leader who considers national interest as a top priority.

Tung also praised Leung and his government for focusing on tackling livelihood issues in the last four years, and increasing investment in health care, innovation, education and welfare.