Understanding Basic Law means smoother sailing

Updated: 2017-06-16 07:06

By Chow Pak-chin(HK Edition)

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Chow Pak-chin says careful consideration of'One Country, Two Systems'will clear up misunderstandings over degree of autonomy

It doesn't seem all that long ago that the Union Jack was held up in a commemorative gesture among bar-goers at Lan Kwai Fong, that British soldiers marched in a uniform manner at the British Military Farewell Ceremony, that the Royal Crest was taken down at the government offices, before the family of the city's last governor boarded Britannia, the Patten girls sobbing as the Royal yacht sailed out of the harbor. In less than a month, Hong Kong will celebrate its 20th anniversary of the handover, the official return of its sovereignty to Chinese hands. Naturally enough, numerous articles have already been penned, their respective authors opining on this historic milestone, though few seem to have mentioned the Basic Law as the very set of guiding principles that have given Hong Kong the special administrative region status, which lets the city benefit from a high level of autonomy.

Understanding Basic Law means smoother sailing

One can't speak about the Basic Law without evoking the original intent of Deng Xiaoping, who first proposed "One Country, Two Systems" as a solution to tackle the historic issues while ensuring sustainable development and prosperity of the city - by resuming China's sovereignty over Hong Kong while retaining the characteristics of the city as much as possible. Under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, the Hong Kong SAR is entitled to its own government, legal system, police force, monetary system, immigration policies, official language, academic and educational system, as well as its own customs territory. It was also under such a principle that the Basic Law was drafted, not least to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents as well as the structure and functions of different branches of the Hong Kong government. Never was absolute autonomy mentioned or hinted in the Basic Law, because the independence of Hong Kong was never part of the original intent of Deng when he proposed the "One Country, Two Systems" concept, nor was it ever the intent of the legislators who participated in the drafting of the Basic Law, based on the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed between the Chinese and British governments in 1984. It boggles the mind, therefore, just how many lawmakers and literati alike seem to have the wrong end of the stick.

It's highly dubious that people equipped with an admirably high level of education and literary proficiency would misinterpret the content of the Basic Law but let's give them the benefit of the doubt here. For whatever political agenda and intent, in the past few years lawmakers and student leaders have exhibited their flabbergasting ability in misunderstanding or misinterpreting the Basic Law. And as such misinformation or disinformation was openly propagated, it naturally sent the wrong message to the younger generation, who have morphed into "freedom fighters" advocating for the independence of Hong Kong, hence the rise of localism, or "separatism under the camouflage of localism", in the words of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). In addressing the mistaken belief in the independence of Hong Kong among the city's youths, Zhang was quoted as saying: "Everyone has special feelings for their hometown. Hong Kong compatriots should be respected for cherishing their characteristic way of life and values. As a matter of fact, some basic principles of 'One Country, Two Systems' include: maintaining Hong Kong's social and economic systems and way of life, Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy. These are the best ways to take care of the actual circumstances of Hong Kong." Political correctness aside, independence has no place in the context of Hong Kong. The promise never was - and never will be, not even after 2047 -that a high level of autonomy equals absolute autonomy.

In calling for a so-called "true universal suffrage" for the election of the city's Chief Executive, a nebulous concept which some student leaders and lawmakers have successfully imprinted in the minds of the public masses during the "Occupy Central"movement, the general opinion was that the Basic Law was obsolete and needed a revamp. Advocates and supporters of the idea cast doubt on the requirement of a broadly representative Nominating Committee, as stipulated in the Basic Law. What they seem to have forgotten is that two years prior, at a meeting with a delegation of security units in Hong Kong, Zhang did express that the ultimate aim of political development in Hong Kong would be implementation of universal suffrage, that democracy will be put forward in accordance with the Basic Law and resolutions of the NPCSC. Amendment of Basic Law is not likely to be a solution because once the cornerstone is shaken, the bottom line can be redrawn, as Zhang said while speaking about the original intent of "One Country, Two Systems", and the importance of safeguarding the rule of law under the Basic Law at a banquet in Hong Kong in May last year.

The past two decades have been a bumpy ride for Hong Kong people, tinted with debates revolving around the Basic Law. But as Zhang said at a banquet at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre last year, there has been no precedent for the "One Country, Two Systems" practice and all aspects of the system will need to be refined, taking into account existing and new issues and contradictions to the principle. One way to move forward, I believe, is to recognize the original intent of the "One Country, Two Systems" principle and understand that all resultant measures and mechanisms are designed with the best interests of Hong Kong in mind.

(HK Edition 06/16/2017 page13)