Don’t exaggerate Xi’s comments on Beijing’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ over Hong Kong, city’s justice minister says

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen also speaks up against ‘politicising of legal issues’ after critics slam jailing of activist trio

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 11:50am

President Xi Jinping’s recent assertion of Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong does not undermine the city’s high degree of autonomy, justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Sunday, as he sought to assuage persistent fears over the mainland’s encroaching powers.

Breaking his silence on the subject, Yuen also spoke against the politicising of legal issues as he brushed aside “unfair accusations” that government prosecutors had acted with political motivations when they pushed for the jailing of several local activists.

Yuen’s remarks came days after Xi, speaking at the Communist Party congress earlier this month, set the path for governing Hong Kong by proposing a melding of Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the city with its “high degree of autonomy” in a natural or “organic” way – a vision seen as signalling the central government’s determination to curb any threats to national unity.

Last Friday, Zhang Xiaoming, the new director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Xi’s assertion was targeted at a small number of people who “blatantly challenge the ‘one country’ principle”.

“We should not exaggerate a few words [from Xi] and be overly worried. Xi did not make only such remarks [on full jurisdiction] in his report – he at the same time stressed the need to respect ‘one country, two systems’,” Yuen told Commercial Radio on Sunday, referring to the guiding principle which safeguards the city’s autonomy and freedoms until 2047.

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The phrase “comprehensive jurisdiction” only explained why the country could set up the Hong Kong special administrative region which thereby exercised its high degree of autonomy and enjoyed executive, legislative and independent judicial power, Yuen said.

“It would be fundamentally impossible for the country to authorise a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong if it did not have full jurisdiction over the city,” he said. “The two things are not contradictory.”

But Civic Party lawmaker and barrister Tanya Chan said the idea of Beijing having “full jurisdiction” over Hong Kong did not exist when the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, were drafted.

“[Xi] is suggesting the full jurisdiction enjoyed by the central government comes first and it can then decide to give the kinds of rights to Hong Kong,” she said. “It now seems all protection [of rights and freedoms] could be taken away any time by the central government.”

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Meanwhile, Yuen hit out at criticism against prosecutors and the judiciary after the High Court in August ruled in favour of the government and threw three student leaders, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, behind bars for their role during a protest in the run-up to the Occupy movement in 2014.

“There is a problem in Hong Kong of politicising legal issues,” he said. “[The government prosecutors] have not studied the case from a political perspective but are accused of doing so. That is very unfair to my colleagues,” he said, adding the government would not bow to pressure.

Asked if he, as a political appointee, would hand over his prosecution powers to the city’s chief prosecutor to avoid future controversies, Yuen said any system would have room for improvement, but any changes should adhere to the Basic Law.

Yuen also reiterated his wish for Hong Kong to be allowed to deal with matters that its own systems could handle. His predecessor, former justice minister Wong Yan-lung, last week described Beijing’s interpretation that effectively disqualified six pro-democracy lawmakers as “strongly politically-motivated” and unnecessary.

“I think I have said previously, that we believe the issues could have been dealt with internally within the systems in Hong Kong,” Yuen said.