Ex-leader of Hong Kong Christian Council slams Beijing for reviving ‘autocracy’

In rare move, head of influential religious body laments gradual ‘devouring’ of two systems by one country principle

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 10:20pm

A former Hong Kong Christian leader has slammed Beijing for reviving “autocracy”, as he urged local churches serving a Protestant congregation of around 500,000 to be “united and courageous” amid the challenges.

In a rare move, Reverend Po Kam-cheong opened up about his personal political observations after his nine-year tenure as secretary general of the Hong Kong Christian Council expired on December 31.

The council is one of the most influential Christian bodies in Hong Kong. Its 21 members include large denominations and societies such as the Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran churches. It also has 10 seats on the 1,200-strong Election Committee that selects the city’s chief executive.

“In these nine years, the central government not only represented Hong Kong on foreign affairs,” Po wrote. “It deepened its involvement in the city’s politics, economy, and even mass media, education and laws.”

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Under the “one country, two systems” principle and Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Beijing guaranteed the city “a high degree of autonomy” after it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

But Po said the one country principle had been “gradually devouring ‘two systems’, and today’s Hong Kong is no longer a city under the framework of the Basic Law, but under the Chinese constitution”.

Beijing officials have emphasised in recent years that Hongkongers must respect the authority of the constitution.

The council was regarded by critics as becoming more conservative after Reverend Eric So Shing-yit took over as chairman from outspoken Methodist pastor Reverend Yuen Tin-yau in 2015.

Yuen was lauded by pro-democracy groups in 2014 for opening his church in Wan Chai for protesters during the 79-day Occupy movement, which brought parts of the city to a standstill.

In 2016, the council evoked criticism after it rejected some followers’ call for it to vacate its 10 seats on the election committee. The council instead ruled that its representatives would be picked by drawing lots.

I couldn’t imagine ... the spectre of the Cultural Revolution would re-emerge and autocracy would revive
Reverend Po Kam-cheong, Hong Kong Christian Council

Po was seen as conservative as he represented the council in meeting activists, but the article he wrote on December 27 and sent to the Post suggested otherwise.

In the piece, Po stated he “could not be glad at all” as Hong Kong celebrated the 20th anniversary of the handover last summer because “some aspiring young people had been jailed”.

He was referring to three prominent student leaders, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who were sent to jail in August for storming the government headquarters – an action that triggered the Occupy protests.

Po had critical words for Beijing’s leadership, too.

“I’ve never thought that everything in Hong Kong would get better under the Communist Party’s rule, but I couldn’t imagine either that 40 years after the death of Mao Zedong ... the spectre of the Cultural Revolution would re-emerge and autocracy would revive.”

The Cultural Revolution was a 10-year campaign initiated by Mao in 1966 that saw the Chinese leader’s thought being imposed on the country while dissidents were killed and free speech suppressed.

In October, Chinese politicians gathering for the party congress raised eyebrows in some quarters as they heaped titles on President Xi Jinping reminiscent of the Mao era.

Po also expressed disappointment about the lack of democratisation internationally, especially in Communist countries, after the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s.

“[I thought] countries around the world ... would gradually become democratic, but things have gone the opposite way,” he lamented.

The veteran priest concluded that as Hong Kong faced “unprecedented” challenges, churches needed to be “more united, sober, and bold in expressing the voice of faith”.

Po said while he was inclined to be pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future, he believed the Christian faith would help people like him find courage as well as a clear mind and vision.