Hong Kong needs a clear-eyed view of Beijing’s powers under the Basic Law
Alice Wu says the central government would not tolerate challenges to its sovereignty, and those pushing for change should carefully read Article 18 of our constitutional document
We sit now on the edge of our seats, waiting for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to announce its interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law. The question is whether it feels that one interpretation will be sufficient as “effective action” to rein in the calls for Hong Kong independence.
I, like most of you, do not like this one bit, and would much rather not be put in this most unpleasant predicament. Us ordinary residents would need to suck it up and try our best to carry on with our daily lives, just like how we all had to endure what Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching dragged us through with their immature and stupid taunt, which has now led the Hong Kong Bar Association to “implore” the Standing Committee for mercy, otherwise worded as “to exercise the highest degree of restraint”.
So far, at least six articles of the Basic Law have been raised by counsel at the judicial review – articles 104, concerning the oath-taking, and 2, 48, 72, 78 and 79. The Standing Committee can, at its discretion, interpret all of these articles, and some. The powers that be, rejected by the likes of Leung and Yau, are now flexing their muscles, exercising their legally entitled powers.
We are at its mercy, because that is the fundamental premise on which “one country, two systems” and our “high degree of autonomy” were built. We need look no further than the 2014 State Council white paper on “one country, two systems”, in which emphasis was placed on Hong Kong being an “inseparable part … under China’s central people’s government”; on the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction over all local administrative regions”, including Hong Kong; and on Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” not being “an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorisation by the central leadership” and “subject to the level of the central leadership’s authorisation”. It flatly pointed out that the “full and accurate understanding” of “one country, two systems” by some Hong Kong residents had been found wanting.
Words do matter, and we must reject those who use speech to trivialise and disrespect others, then try to escape responsibility for their careless words. At stake is a possible interpretation of all articles of the Basic Law pertaining to sovereignty, not just the oath-taking. Beijing has long ago framed the issue as such. We can delude ourselves by believing that the words used in its 2014 white paper mean little, or brace ourselves for the possibility that we may have to bear the consequences of two individuals taking their words too lightly.
Here we are, a captive of dire circumstances. It may be time to learn the “Stockdale paradox”, named after the late James Stockdale, a US military officer held captive for nearly eight years during the Vietnam war. To survive an ordeal as he did, we can’t be blindly optimistic and must confront the reality of our situation, even the worst-case scenario. At the same time, we must not lose faith that we will pull through.
The worst that can happen is for the Standing Committee to issue an order applying the relevant national laws in Hong Kong – if not now, then at a later date – should it find sufficient “turmoil” within the SAR “which endangers national unity or security and is beyond the control of the government of the region”, as spelled out in Article 18 of the Basic Law. To prolong the life of “one country, two systems”, it is time for us to demand that Leung and Yau read and understand Article 18, and to stop orchestrating “events” that justify the Standing Committee making declarations described in that article.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA