Hong Kong admonishes US panel for calling future of ‘one country, two systems’ increasingly uncertain
Congressional committee on human rights and rule of law in China cites disqualification of six Hong Kong lawmakers and jailing of 16 activists in report
The Hong Kong government on Friday rejected a US congressional report that deemed the “one country, two systems” model as unsustainable, urging foreign legislatures not to meddle in the city’s internal affairs.
The long-term viability of “one country, two systems” governance in Hong Kong has become increasing uncertain after going through “further erosion”, according to an annual report by a US congressional panel tasked to monitor China’s rule of law.
The Hong Kong government admonished the report in a statement.
“Since the return to the motherland, the HKSAR has been exercising a high degree of autonomy and ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’ in strict accordance with the Basic Law,” the government said.
“This demonstrates the full and successful implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which has been widely recognised by the international community.”
The US report, released on Thursday, said the long-term viability of the “one country, two systems” model was in jeopardy given central government interference. Under the model, Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Against the backdrop of the 20th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong, the Commission observed further erosion of the ‘‘one country, two systems’’ principle enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” the report said.
The report also cited the disqualification of six popularly elected legislators, Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law, and the jailing of young democracy activists as examples that Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom were under growing threat.
The panel urged the US government to reiterate its interest in ensuring an independent judiciary and democratic governance in Hong Kong, and said it planned to nominate three jailed leaders of the 2014 Occupy protests for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Set up in 2000, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China keeps an eye on human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. It consists of nine members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, plus five senior government officials directly appointed by the US president.
In its latest annual report, the panel noted what it considered an intervention in an active court case by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in November 2016.
Following the top legislative body's interpretation of the relevant provision in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, a Hong Kong court ruled in favour of the government’s challenge against the oath-taking antics by legislators-elect Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching and barred the duo from taking their seats.
“Following the NPCSC interpretation, the Hong Kong government continued to pursue legal cases against participants in the 2014 pro-democracy protests and members of the political opposition,” the report read.
Four more pro-democracy lawmakers were subsequently disqualified over the validity of their oaths.
Two separate government appeals resulted in prison sentences for 13 protesters convicted for staging an illegal assembly against a rural development plan, as well as student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, who were convicted for storming the government headquarters compound in 2014, in the lead-up to the Occupy protests.
Fifteen of these 16 protesters had originally been given community service sentences by the courts before the government pushed for harsher terms.
“Some international rights and domestic pro-democracy groups asserted the prosecutions were politically motivated, which the Hong Kong government and two local legal organisations have denied,” the report said.
Commission chairman Senator Marco Rubio said he intended to nominate student leaders Wong, Law and Chow for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to honour their “peaceful efforts to bring political reform and protect the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration”.
Separately, the panel said it believed the 1,200-strong Election Committee had been pressured into supporting Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the eventual victor, during the chief executive race earlier this year.
“Observers reported that during the nomination period and election campaign, Chinese central government officials and representatives pressured Election Committee members to support Lam over other candidates,” the report read.
The report also painted a bleak picture of China’s human rights development.
“The commission’s 2017 report documents continued deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in China, as President Xi Jinping consolidates power in advance of the 19th Party Congress slated for later this month,” Rubio said.
“As President [Donald] Trump heads to China next month, he must press China to uphold international human rights norms, respect the rule of law and adhere to universal standards.”