Hong Kong Basic Law

Hong Kong’s new top Basic Law official: the bureaucrat involved in drafting recent amendments to China’s constitution

Shen Chunyao’s appointment could signal greater scrutiny of whether Hong Kong laws are aligned with the national constitution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 11:36pm

A mainland official involved in the drafting of the recent historic amendments to China’s constitution has been appointed to lead the body that advises Beijing on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

In what is being seen as a move to highlight the importance of the national constitution for Hong Kong and Macau, bureaucrat Shen Chunyao was named on Wednesday by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) as head of both the Basic Law committees of the two cities, state news agency Xinhua reported.

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Shen, 57, replaces Li Fei, who has been promoted to succeed Qiao Xiaoyang as chair of the newly renamed Law and Constitution Committee, which oversees national legal and constitutional issues.

Before the appointment, Shen chaired the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPCSC, China’s top legislative body, and was involved in drafting the constitutional amendments that included strengthening the ruling power of the Communist Party and lifting the two-term limit on the president’s post.

Shen fended off criticism over the amendments at a press conference in Beijing on March 11, when the National People’s Congress endorsed them.

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His appointment came as leaders in Beijing repeatedly highlighted the status of China’s constitution and the Basic Law during the annual sessions of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) this month.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Shen’s ranking and involvement in the constitutional amendments might shed light on the advisory body’s areas of focus that Beijing wanted to highlight.

“The NPC may devote more attention to work relating to the interpretation of the Basic Law and the constitutionality of local legislation,” he said.

Lau was referring to the power of the NPCSC – which the Basic Law Committee is under – to reject Hong Kong legislation that does not comply with the national constitution. That power has not been used since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.

“President Xi Jinping has stressed that the Chinese constitution forms Hong Kong’s constitutional order,” Lau said. “So the NPCSC may scrutinise Hong Kong laws more stringently in accordance with the principles of China’s constitution.”

Shen is scheduled to meet a Hong Kong delegation led by Executive Councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah in Beijing on Thursday.

Tong told the Post that despite Shen being an experienced NPC law drafter and constitutional expert, he was a little surprised by the appointment amid speculation that position would be taken up by Chen Sixi, the head of Beijing’s liaison office in Macau who was regarded as a hardliner.

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Tong also had reservations about how familiar Shen was with Hong Kong’s situation, a question that he intended to raise with Shen at their Thursday dinner.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said he personally did not know Shen, but hoped the incoming official would ensure the meaning of the Basic Law would not be distorted.

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In his work report on March 5 at the start of the NPC sessions, Premier Li Keqiang declared that the authority of the country’s constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law had been further realised in the city.

Former CPPCC chairman Yu Zhengsheng, in his five-year work report, also cited as an achievement the top political advisory body’s support for an interpretation of the Basic Law that disqualified six pro-democracy lawmakers for failing to take a proper oath required under the mini-constitution.