Hong Kong Basic Law

European Parliament delegation raises concerns over Basic Law interpretation, media censorship

Chairman of body dealing with China made comments on final day of three-day visit to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 10:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 12:35pm

A delegation from the European Parliament concluded its three-day visit to Hong Kong on Thursday on a jarring note, saying it was concerned about Beijing’s interpretations of the city’s mini-constitution and self-censorship.

“We are concerned to hear about media self-censorship and about interpretations of the Basic Law prior to court rulings,” said Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China. “The rule of law is a keystone of Hong Kong’s unique way of life. It is vital for the city’s international reputation, and integral to the success of ‘one country, two systems’, which we strongly support.”

The parliament is the legislative body of the European Union.

It shows that the international community is very concerned about Hong Kong’s affairs
Dennis Kwok

In October last year, the Hong Kong government made a legal bid to oust pro-independence lawmakers-elect Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching from the Legislative Council for deviating from the standard oath during their swearing-in.

The next month, before Hong Kong courts had reached a decision, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee – China’s top legislative body – interpreted the local oath ordinance, requiring public officials to take their oaths “sincerely” and “solemnly” or face disqualification.

Leung, Yau and four other pro-democracy lawmakers were unseated in separate government-initiated litigations after the court ruled their oath-taking antics breached the law.

Since Hong Kong was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the standing committee has interpreted the Basic Law five times: in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2011 and last year

Hong Kong’s press freedom was ranked 73 out of 180 countries this year by Reporters Without Borders, four places lower than its ranking last year. The city’s ranking has been falling consecutively since 2002, when it was 18.

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

A government spokesman said on Thursday the government had “always safeguarded and will continue to safeguard the rule of law, which is no doubt a core value of Hong Kong”.

Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, of the Civic Party, said he met Leinen on Tuesday for an hour and that Leinen’s remarks echoed his own.

“It shows that the international community is very concerned about Hong Kong’s affairs,” the pan-democrat said. “They are happy to see Hong Kong thriving but also concerned about its rule of law. Hong Kong is a very important part of the international community.”

But pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said Leinen might not understand the uniqueness of the “one country, two systems” principle.

She said the Basic Law stipulated that China’s legislative body had the power to interpret the Hong Kong law, which was what “one country” meant.

“China has been highly restrained in such interpretations,” said Leung, who is also a City University law professor. “We need to understand the Basic Law is not just about Hong Kong.”