Time for Hongkongers to learn the Basic Law

By Elsie Leung (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-05 07:17

On the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), I feel it necessary to call upon Hong Kong people to gain a better understanding of the Basic Law through which the city derives its power of a high degree of autonomy from the central government.

Hong Kong people must appreciate the meaning of China's resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and adjust their mindset accordingly. To educate the younger generation about the concept of "one country, two systems", a Basic Law promotion campaign is in order. The Basic Law, enacted in 1990, stipulates the basic policies of the People's Republic of China toward Hong Kong and the system to be practiced here the capitalist system. Such system and the previous way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

In a survey released by the Census and Statistics Department in 2005, 85 percent of the 15,000 respondents said that they did not understand the Basic Law well.

A paradigm shift is required for Hongkongers to accept China's sovereignty over Hong Kong. Under the British rule, they were governed by the sovereign of a nation to which they did not belong. There was the subconscious repulsion toward the sovereignty. Since nationalism was not encouraged under colonial rule, Hong Kong people would have to find their new identity as Chinese citizens after reunification. Many of them do not understand what sovereignty entails.

Some people mistake "a high degree of autonomy" to mean that apart from defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong should have the final say in every matter. The fact is, if you look at the Basic Law, it is clear that the central government, as the sovereign from whom all administrative, legislative and judicial powers are derived and delegated to Hong Kong by the National People's Congress (NPC), has a role in Hong Kong's affairs. For example, it appoints the chief executive and the principal officials, sends garrison, and sets up the Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These are substantial rights of the sovereign. It is also stated that the HKSAR is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and is directly under the central government.

The Basic Law was promulgated by the National People's Congress to prescribe the system to be practised in Hong Kong and to ensure the implementation of the basic policies of the PRC toward Hong Kong. Hence the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee have the obligation to exercise a supervisory role over Hong Kong in order to achieve such purposes. Therefore it has the right to reject locally-enacted laws that it deems not in conformity with the provisions of the Basic Law insofar as they relate to affairs which are the responsibility of the central government or the relationship between the central government and the HKSAR; any change in the method for election of the chief executive and the formation of the Legislature will have the approval of the Standing Committee or be reported to it for record.

The duty to record carries with it the right to examine the validity of the law and the proposal respectively. This means the Standing Committee has the power not to record if the law is not in conformity with the Basic Law. The powers of interpretation and amendment of the Basic Law are vested in the Standing Committee of the NPC and the NPC respectively. These provisions are to ensure the implementation of the Basic Law in accordance with the basic policies of the PRC toward Hong Kong.

That does not mean that the central government should manage our day-to-day operation, but it certainly has a role to play in Hong Kong affairs in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law. For Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong, we must equip ourselves with adequate knowledge of the Basic Law and its interpretation. Formal education is the best way to promote the Basic Law.

Our teachers should have deeper understanding and help to disseminate knowledge of the Basic Law. The broadcast of the national anthem on TV and on field trips to the mainland would be useful to help youngsters find out what it means to be Chinese citizens. That is not brainwashing, as nationalism comes naturally when one looks with one's eyes, listens with one's ears and feels with one's own heart.

Once we understand Hong Kong's legal position vis-a-vis the whole country, we will accept the new constitutional order under the Basic Law, and recognize the PRC as our sovereign. We would support the principle of "one country, two systems" and commit ourselves to making it a success.

Into the 10th year of the establishment of the HKSAR, the Basic Law has fulfilled its purpose of a smooth transition and maintenance of prosperity and stability. I have confidence that the HKSAR will take bold strides forward and maximize its position as the oriental pearl of China.

The author is Deputy Director of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee and former secretary for justice of the Hong Kong SAR

(China Daily 02/05/2007 page4)

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