Beijing’s Basic Law adviser gives speech for top leaders (and ditches parts about Hong Kong’s freedoms)

Speech Elsie Leung delivers different to text handed out beforehand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 1:29pm

Beijing’s top adviser on Hong Kong’s Basic Law caused confusion on Saturday by giving a high-profile speech to top central government leaders in which she ditched passages detailing the city’s rights and freedoms.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a former Hong Kong justice secretary, was the first to speak at the event at the Great Hall of the People, in the capital.

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Copies of the speech had been handed to the 170-plus people at the venue. It listed areas in which the Basic Law had sought to protect Hongkongers, including “the freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”

It also cited academic and religious freedom.

But when Leung delivered the speech, to an audience including China’s No 3 leader Zhang Dejiang, she skipped those parts and briefly mentioned that since the handover Hongkongers’ “lifestyle has remained unchanged, with their human rights and freedoms protected under the Basic Law”.

The event marked the upcoming 20th anniversary of Hong Kong being handed back to China from Britain, in 1997.

A delegate from Hong Kong, asked about the omission, said: “I was confused when Elsie suddenly skipped four lines in the script.”

He would not speculate on whether it was meant to avoid embarrassing mainland leaders.

Leung, now vice-chair of the Basic Law Committee, under the National People’s Congress, said after the speech that it had contained 4,000 words, but she needed to finish it in 10 minutes.

“The four lines I omitted were not the only omission I made,” she said.

“But since all the freedoms and rights were mentioned in the first sentence – i.e. all the rights and freedoms are protected by Chapter III of the Basic Law – and the written text was before everyone at the seminar, there is no insinuation…[that] the mention of freedoms and rights was prohibited or not important.”

In the rest of her speech, Leung noted that Hongkongers could not accept the change of national identity after the handover and failed to show recognition of the country and the people.

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But she praised the Basic Law for guaranteeing a “seamless transfer” of sovereignty and ensuring that Hong Kong did not have “riots or revolutions”, as seen in many other decolonisation processes.

She also said the mini-constitution had maintained economic prosperity for Hong Kong under capitalism.