City only has the powers laid down in Basic Law, says Wu Bangguo
The head of the National People's Congress has issued an unambiguous reminder to Hong Kong over the limits to its power: it only has as much autonomy as already laid down by Beijing.
Wu Bangguo told a forum to mark the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the Basic Law there was no question of the city being entitled to 'residual power' - power to manoeuvre in areas not overtly granted to it by Beijing.
His remarks appear to be a warning on Hong Kong people's say on the city's pace of democratisation, ahead of a consultation on its political reform programme, due to start this summer.
'However much power the central government decides to assign to the SAR [special administrative region], this is what the SAR gets. Article 20 of the Basic Law provides a legal basis for dealing with subsequent assignment of power.
'There does not exist the question of so-called 'residual power',' the leader of the national legislature told the 200-strong audience in the Great Hall of the People, including Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
Noting that China practised a unitary system of government, the 'high degree of autonomy' was granted by the central government instead of being something inherent to Hong Kong, he said.
Mr Wu did not refer to any ongoing constitutional debate, but analysts were quick to interpret his remarks as a warning that Hong Kong should not infringe on the 'absolute power' of Beijing in mapping out the way forward for universal suffrage.
Mr Wu insisted the chief executive must play a 'dominant role' in the establishment and operation of the SAR government. He said it would not be appropriate to copy the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary or the parliamentary system from the US or Britain directly to Hong Kong.
Some members of the Basic Law Committee attending the forum, including Maria Tam Wai-chu and Albert Chen Hung-yee, played down the significance of Mr Wu's remarks.
But in Hong Kong, political scientist Ma Ngok of Chinese University said: 'The message is clear. All powers come from Beijing and it has the ultimate say on 'yes' or 'no' on everything.
'Beijing wants to anchor the discussion to how we can design an electoral procedure that would not end up having an elected chief executive unacceptable to Beijing,' he said.
Veteran Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming questioned the motive of raising such issues again, when the Basic Law had already been written and practised for 10 years.
'I think they are saying all this now because they think they have been too kind to us and have not been able to control affairs here,' Mr Lee said
'They may be regretting this. I challenge the motive for saying this.'
The lawmaker and his fellow pan-democratic camp members also took issue with Mr Wu's comments on separation of powers, which they described as 'damaging' and a threat to Hong Kong's independent judiciary.
The Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee warned that any suggestion that Hong Kong did not abide by the concept of separation of powers would tarnish its image and undermine public confidence in the judiciary.
Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said while Mr Wu was absolutely right in that the principle of separation of powers was not spelled out in the Basic Law, he believed it was part of the 'one country, two systems' and 'high degree of autonomy' package.