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Hong Kong Basic Law

Too soon to talk about 2047? Legal experts split on when Hong Kong should debate its future

Land ownership is the big issue after Beijing’s 50-year guarantee ends, says former lawmaker Ronny Tong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 6:36pm

Two legal experts are divided on when talks should start on Hong Kong’s status after 2047 – the year Beijing’s 50-year promise to maintain the city’s way of life under the “one country, two systems” principle expires.

Under Article 5 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, mainland China’s socialist system was not implemented in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover and the city’s capitalist system was guaranteed.

Pan-democratic lawmakers and academics suggested that a discussion on the future should start as soon as possible, as people were worried if the city would become socialist in 2047. Localist activists have proposed a referendum that would include independence as an option for Hong Kong.

The case for extending Hong Kong’s 2047 deadline

At a forum hosted by the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said it was too early to start the debate.

“Usually when legislation, such as the Basic Law, does not have an expiry date, it shall remain valid until it is amended [to include an expiry clause],” Chen said.

He added that Article 5 originated partly from the British request that Hong Kong should become a special administrative region that exercised capitalism after the handover.

Land accounts for a large part of the assets of Hong Kong corporations, and its value will drop to zero on June 30, 2047
Ex-lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah

“Beijing did not want Hong Kong to be like that forever, so Deng Xiaoping was being pragmatic and suggested a 50-year time frame rather arbitrarily.”

But former Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah disagreed.

“The ownership of many land plots will expire in 2047,” Tong said. “Land accounts for a large part of the assets of Hong Kong corporations, and its value will drop to zero on June 30, 2047.”

“If you are not telling me that the land ownership can extend beyond 2047, I can’t do business or come to invest here ... and they must be reassured that Hong Kong will operate under a capitalistic system.”

He also said that since many Hong Kong people do not recognise or respect the Basic Law, the Hong Kong government should set up an advisory body that will gather and follow-up on the people’s views on the mini-constitution.

Currently, the Basic Law Committee is accountable to the national legislature, while the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee is mainly tasked with helping the local administration promote the Basic Law.

Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu suggested that after the chief executive election next March, it might be time for Hong Kong to renew the discussion on making its own national security law, as well as revamping its electoral systems to achieve “one man, one vote” for the city’s leader and legislature.