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Hong Kong Basic Law

Don’t worry about anthem, checkpoint sagas - Hong Kong is still autonomous, Beijing insists

Key mainland officials urge ‘confidence’ as they seek to ease fears over national anthem law and planned joint checkpoint for high-speed railway

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 11:10am

Two key mainland Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs have assured the city’s largest group of barristers that Beijing has not tightened the “one country, two systems” policy in light of two highly contentious political issues.

They urged the 30-strong Hong Kong Bar Association delegation visiting Beijing on Tuesday to have “confidence” in the governing policy allowing the city a high degree of autonomy, as they sought to ease fears over impending legislation to curb disrespect for China’s national anthem and a planned joint checkpoint for a high-speed, cross-border railway.

The barristers raised the two contentious issues when they met Zhang Xiaoming, the new director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei who specialises in the city’s mini-constitution.

The association’s chairman, Paul Lam Ting-kwok, said he had expressed the group’s concerns about the implementation of one country, two systems in light of the city preparing to adopt a national anthem law recently endorsed by the country’s top legislature, and the so-called co-location arrangement on the Hong Kong side of the express rail link to Guangzhou.

“Their message is that … they hope Hong Kong people will have confidence in the one country, two systems principle,” Lam said.

Beijing has never tightened the principle
Bar Association chairman Paul Lam, quoting official Zhang Xiaoming

He told reporters that Zhang had spent some time discussing President Xi Jinping’s remarks about Hong Kong during last month’s Communist Party Congress, during which Xi called for the melding of Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the city with its high degree of autonomy in a natural or “organic” way.

“Zhang said the central government values the one country, two systems principle and is determined to keep it going; Beijing has never tightened the principle,” Lam said.

The meeting came as hard-core Hong Kong fans once again jeered the national anthem at the start of a game between the home team and Lebanon at the Hong Kong Stadium in Happy Valley on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of them booed and yelled expletives as March of the Volunteers rang out across the stadium, ignoring dozens of security guards urging them to show respect.

Under new legislation recently approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, anyone who maliciously modifies the lyrics, or plays or sings the anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way in public, can be detained for up to 15 days or imprisoned for three years under mainland China’s criminal code. An addition to Annexe III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law has set the stage for the city to implement its own version.

The Hong Kong government has said it will act on it “by way of appropriate local legislation” consistent with the city’s constitutional and legal regime.

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Opposition lawmakers and their supporters are also worried that the local government’s plan to set up joint immigration and quarantine facilities at the West Kowloon terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link would erode the city’s high degree of autonomy by allowing mainland Chinese officials to exert their authority on Hong Kong soil.

Lam quoted Li as saying that many countries also had national anthem laws, and that neighbouring Macau had already passed its own legislation after its handover to Chinese rule.

The barristers’ visit is to be followed by Li Fei’s trip to Hong Kong starting on Wednesday. He is due to speak on Hong Kong’s “role and mission” under the Chinese constitution as well as the Basic Law.

“I think his key mission is to convey the central government’s latest message for Hong Kong in the wake of President Xi’s report made during the 19th party congress,” an NPC delegate speaking on condition of anonymity said.

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Only one opposition lawmaker, Ip Kin-yuen of the education constituency, has agreed to join the forum.

Li is also scheduled to visit two construction sites involving cross-border infrastructure: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail, a government source said.