Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Agnes Chow’s by-election disqualification robs us all of a debate on Hong Kong’s future

Mike Rowse says the decision to bar Agnes Chow from participating in the Legislative Council by-election has deprived the community of a debate on Hong Kong’s future after Article 5 of the Basic Law lapses in 2047

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 11:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 7:41pm

It may seem fanciful, but a case can be made that the real victim of the decision to ban Agnes Chow Ting from standing in the upcoming Legislative Council by-election will turn out to be President Xi Jinping. And when he discovers what those in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the liaison office and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government have done to his reputation, heads may roll.

But let me start with Demosisto and its personalities. I have met Nathan Law Kwun-chung and he struck me as a thoroughly decent young man. I have not met Chow, but she seems to be cut from the same cloth. They are clearly two of our finest young people, highly principled and passionate about Hong Kong’s future.

Personalities aside, the real problem with their political party, Demosisto, is that its entire policy platform is founded on two major misunderstandings. The party’s position is that the Basic Law only covers Hong Kong up to 2047. Citizens here should have the right to decide their way of life thereafter through a plebiscite under the heading of self-determination. Though left unsaid, it is clear that one of the options on the table at that time would be independence. This stance sounds reasonable but it is fallacious. As I have pointed out, the Basic Law has no expiry date – it is permanent legislation and stays in force until repealed or amended by the National People’s Congress.

I just cannot foresee a time when the NPC will repeal or amend Article 1, for example, which states unambiguously that the Hong Kong SAR is an inalienable part of China. While it is true that the promise of no change (to the capitalist system and way of life) in Article 5 lapses after 50 years – hence the reference to 2047 – there is no concomitant commitment to swing immediately to a socialist economy and abandon our legal system or other aspects of our life.

Hong Kong, Taiwan and the 19th Party Congress

Secondly, if there is ever a review – whether before, during or after 2047 – of how Hong Kong should be governed, then the outcome will be a matter for the 1.4 billion people of the whole of China, not just the seven million residents of our city.

Can Beijing’s power to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law ever be questioned?

But now back to the by-election. The Legco vacancy arises because Law was disqualified by the court for taking his oath of office in a manner judged inappropriate. The underlying reason for official anger is not so much Law’s performance on the day but the perception that lurking in the background is the aim of independence. Since Chow is committed to the same platform, there is a technical argument that she should not be allowed to stand for the same reason Law was kicked out. That is the route the returning officer, with the “help” of Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, has chosen. But that is totally to ignore the political circumstances.

The place to argue out political issues is in the political arena, not behind closed doors. And where better and at what better time than an election when everyone is focused on the matter at hand. There are many in our community who have misunderstandings about what options are and are not on the table for our future. The facts need to be fully aired in public so that, together, we can make realistic plans. The foolish ruling has denied the whole community the opportunity of that debate.

Xi is the undisputed leader of China, the world’s most populous nation with the largest standing army and the second-largest economy. He is the most powerful Chinese leader for decades, and arguably the most powerful man in the world since the United States weakened itself by electing the erratic Donald Trump. But his subordinates have, in effect, told the whole world that he is frightened of a 21-year-old’s immature political ideas. He may never forgive them.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises. [email protected]