Beijing, not Occupy, threatens the rule of law, says Canadian think tank
Institute behind economic freedom index says city's top spot is at risk
The erosion of Hong Kong's rule of law in the face of Beijing's growing influence could harm the city's competitiveness and impinge on its status as the world's freest economy, a prestigious Canadian think tank says.
The Fraser Institute has consistently ranked Hong Kong top in its Economic Freedom of the World index. But the city's justice chief warned earlier this year that the ranking was at risk if citizens failed to accept the government's stance on political reform.
However, Fred McMahon, a resident fellow at the institute, said encroachment from Beijing would harm the rule of law.
"Non-violent civil disobedience has been used by many people so many times to gain rights and push forward the course of freedom," McMahon said in Hong Kong. Politicians and some lawyers had said the protesters were damaging the rule of law by defying court orders to leave.
McMahon cited Beijing's restrictions on political reform as a bigger concern. The central government ruled that the city's first elected leader in 2017 would have to be chosen from a shortlist decided by a nominating committee dominated by its loyalists.
"My concern is much longer term … [that] China begins to have control over the selection of chief executive. It will, over the long term, give them control over the appointment of judges and thus the rule of law," McMahon said. "If the Chinese government [controls] the chief executive, you could probably start seeing significant deterioration [in the rule of law] in five to 10 years."
Under the Basic Law, judges are appointed by the chief executive on the recommendation of a commission, whose members are chosen by the government.
McMahon sees democracy as better able to support economic freedom in the long term.
"The old communist states used to have universal suffrage, but you could only vote for the communist. It seems to me what China is proposing for Hong Kong … there is great similarity."
A Hong Kong government spokesman rejected McMahon's claims, saying they were not supported by concrete evidence.
The institute's latest freedom report, released last month, again ranked Hong Kong at the top, ahead of Singapore and New Zealand. The scores are derived by assessing the policies and institutions of 151 countries and Hong Kong. The city ranks first in two of the five areas assessed but is placed only 23rd for its "legal system and property rights".