Hong Kong Basic Law

Liaison office legal chief tells Hong Kong: Basic Law is not your constitution

Wang Zhenmin says legal framework in city ‘must have the Chinese constitution as root and the Basic Law as supplement’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 12:36pm

Beijing effectively sent Hong Kong a message on Saturday, reiterating its stance on the Chinese constitution and the part it plays in the city’s legal framework at a seminar on “one country, two systems”.

Speaking at the event, Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief of Beijing’s liaison office in the city, said it would be wrong to regard the Basic Law as Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

The legal scholar from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, who said he was appearing in a “personal capacity”, also set the stage for legitimising joint checkpoints at the new high-speed rail line, despite the judicial reviews which were scheduled to be heard at the High Court in October.

In decisions issued by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NCSC), such as the one approving the checkpoints for the West Kowloon terminal of the cross-border high-speed rail link last year, Wang said “their binding power was unquestionable”.

Five pro-democracy activists have launched legal challenges against the Legislative Council’s decision to approve the so-called co-location bill, although the High Court has said it will not hear the case until a month after the line linking the city with the mainland is expected to have opened.

Wang’s comments came after he laid out his thoughts on the principle of one country, two systems. He said the Chinese constitution fully applies in the city, apart from in areas covered by the Basic Law.

“The constitutional order in Hong Kong must have the Chinese constitution as root and the Basic Law as supplement,” Wang said.

Lawmaker Dennis Kwok, a barrister, dismissed Wang’s remarks on the Basic Law as “useless”. He said Wang was merely stating the obvious, and the Beijing lawyer would do better by getting out into the city and meeting Hongkongers.

Giving a presentation on the city’s constitutional order, Wang said people who wanted to make the Basic Law the city’s constitution had “misunderstood” and “twisted” the principle of one country, two systems.

“The country’s constitution fully applies to Hong Kong … apart from areas amended or replaced by the Basic Law,” Wang said.

“Hong Kong can have its own law, an independent judiciary, but it cannot have its own constitution.”

He also said in dealing with Hong Kong affairs, the central government did not have to follow Hong Kong laws.

“We respect Hong Kong’s common law and the judiciary, but we have to understand, when the country deals with Hong Kong affairs, it is not according to local laws,” Wang said.

If Hong Kong and Macau demanded mainland authorities follow their laws “the country would be a mess”, he said.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, who also attended the seminar, would not elaborate on Wang’s comments.

“I have said it many times and you wouldn’t listen,” she said, referencing similar statements she made in May. Leung served as the city’s secretary for justice from 1997 to 2005.

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes said Wang’s comments were “nothing out of the ordinary”.

Dykes noted that the Basic Law was created in accordance with the Chinese constitution, and had granted the city a high degree of autonomy.

Kwok, a Civic Party lawmaker, said no one in Hong Kong would challenge the fact that the Basic Law stemmed from an article of the Chinese constitution.

“I would advise Wang to go out and understand more about the Hong Kong people,” he said. “Maybe learn some Cantonese.”

At the seminar, Wang also said decisions made by the NPCSC had already become “part of Hong Kong law”.

The NPCSC has made a total of 33 decisions related to Hong Kong, including last year when it approved the co-location plan.

The arrangement allows express rail passengers to go through Hong Kong and mainland immigration in one go, but also lets mainland authorities enforce national laws in an area inside the terminal.

Six things to know about controversial co-location scheme

“As these decisions do not fall under situations listed in Basic Law Article 18, there was no need to include them in the Basic Law’s Annex 3. But their binding power is unquestionable,” Wang said.

Basic Law Article 18 stipulates that no national law should be enforced in Hong Kong, apart from those listed in Annex 3.

It also says laws listed in Annex 3 must be confined to those relating to defence and foreign affairs, as well as other matters outside the limits of the autonomy of special administrative regions.