Hong Kong Basic Law

Nothing hardline about urging respect for China’s socialist system, says adviser to Hong Kong leader after Qiao Xiaoyang’s comments

Ronny Tong voices disappointment at pan-democrats’ reaction to former law committee chief’s comments, but says no need for further legislation enforcing Beijing’s rule over city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 6:14pm

An adviser to Hong Kong’s leader has defended a former Beijing official who urged city residents not to cross a legal line by challenging China’s socialist system, saying it was not a hardline stance.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an executive councillor, called what Qiao Xiaoyang said on Saturday fairly academic, and it would be unreasonable to expect any former Beijing official not to hit out at the notion of Hong Kong independence. Qiao is a retired chairman of the National People’s Congress law committee.

“The part on independence was less than 10 minutes in a speech of over an hour...What Qiao said is definitely not unyielding at all, as he only suggested [the idea of Hong Kong independence] would harm national sentiments,” Tong told a Commercial Radio show on Sunday, adding that he found the backlash from the pan-democratic camp, of which he used to be a member, “strange”.

Qiao, in the city for a week-long tour, appealed to Hongkongers on Saturday to back the Communist Party. He raised the subject of Hong Kong independence, saying one cannot behave like an “open-minded gentleman” on the subject.

He said Hong Kong was under China’s “unitary system” and that the Chinese constitution encompassed the whole country.

The pan-democratic camp expressed worry that Qiao’s remarks meant less room for criticism of the Communist Party. Civic Party lawmaker leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu argued the rise of independence sentiments stemmed from bad governance, and instead of opposing the notion with stern rhetoric, Beijing should demonstrate the advantage of the “one country, two systems” model with sincerity.

Tong, formerly with the pro-democracy Civic Party, said he was “disappointed” by the pan-democrat bloc’s response. He said it gave Beijing officials an impression that the bloc speaks for, or aligns itself with, those advocating independence.

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“It would do no good in easing the atmosphere for a restart of political reform,” he said.

Tong, a barrister by trade, and convenor of the think tank Path of Democracy, also said the Chinese constitution is by definition applicable to the whole country, including Hong Kong – but said he saw no need for local laws enforcing that.

He was speaking in response to remarks made by Elsie Leung Oi-sie, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, in the same seminar that Qiao attended on Saturday. Leung has suggested all clauses, except those touched on the socialist system in the Chinese constitution, are applicable to Hong Kong and the city’s government should study ways they could be applied locally.

Tong said all aspects concerning Hong Kong in the Chinese constitution, including its political system, core values and people’s rights, were already covered by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

“For now I can’t think of any article in the Chinese constitution involving Hong Kong that would need legislation to enforce,” he said.

For now I can’t think of any article in the Chinese constitution involving Hong Kong that would need legislation to enforce
Ronny Tong

Separately, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said Qiao’s statements made the nature of the relationship between the constitution, the Basic Law and the city clear, adding it was obvious the notion of Hong Kong independence could not be tolerated.

However, Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, the former law dean of University of Hong Kong, cautioned against the argument that the Chinese constitution in general is applicable to the city, citing the fundamental difference between the constitution and Hong Kong’s common-law system.

“The Chinese constitution is not a legal document but a political one, and even the Supreme People’s Court has no right to interpret it,” he said. “But, in our common-law system, any legal document could be interpreted by courts. There is an apparent conflict here.”

Chan also cited the clauses in the constitution related to family planning and military service, which he said would be hardly applicable to Hong Kong.

“Preserving the ‘one country, two systems’ model is far more than legal clauses, it is also about preserving the value of the system,” Chan said.

HKU legal scholar Eric Cheung Tat-ming agreed, saying it would be almost impossible to require the city’s judges to take the constitution into account when the Basic Law has been drafted in such a specific way.

Meanwhile, Tong lamented that the city had not brought about two things promised in the Basic Law, the national security law and the implementation of universal suffrage, almost halfway through the 50-year lifespan of the “one country, two systems” guarantee. Under that guarantee, part of the agreement under which Hong Kong returned from British rule to Chinese in 1997, Hongkongers get certain political and legal rights that people in mainland China do not.

Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the city to pass national security legislation banning any act of treason, secession, sedition, or subversion against the central government.

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“These two are the important factors in determining whether one country, two systems has been fully implemented,” Tong said. “How could we say one country, two systems is a successful model if we can’t handle them well?”

He feared the model might stand a lower chance of extension beyond 2047 if the city fails to deliver on the promises.