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HK Basic Law move 'timely, necessary'
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-07 00:54

The necessary and timely interpretations by China's top legislature on the Basic Law of Hong Kong will be conducive for Hong Kong's development and stability, mainland officials said Tuesday.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee's approval of interpretations to two clauses in the annexes to the Basic Law of Hong Kong are broadcast at the Times Square in the territory's downtown April 6, 2004. [newsphoto]

During a press conference following the conclusion of the Eighth Meeting of the Tenth National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee three top officials said the interpretations will be beneficial for the special administrative region's (SAR) high degree of autonomy.

The two clauses interpreted, Clause 7 of Annex I and Clause 3 of Annex II, relate to the selection of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR and the formation of the Legislative Council as well as procedures for voting on bills and motions after 2007.

The press conference was held by Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary-general of the NPC Standing Committee, Li Fei, deputy director of the NPC Legislative Affairs Committee, and Xu Ze, deputy director of the State Council Office on Hong Kong and Macao Affairs. .

Discussion has raged in Hong Kong since the second half of last year about whether there is a need to amend the way the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council are selected, the officials said.

In fact, they said, there are different views as to how the constitutional development of Hong Kong should move forward. That development has a bearing on the relationship between the central authorities and the HKSAR, the public's interests and Hong Kong's future.

Qiao pointed out the HKSAR is a local administrative region under the direct governance of the Central People's Government, with its rights of autonomy authorized by the central government.

By exercising its right to interpret the Basic Law, the NPC Standing Committee can clarify different views on the implementation of the Basic Law, he said.

This will not affect the high degree of autonomy Hong Kong enjoys, said Qiao. In fact, he added, it is beneficial for the HKSAR to practice a high degree of autonomy.

The Basic Law provides for a constitutional system in Hong Kong.

The decision-making power, however, is in the hands of the central authorities while the HKSAR, as a local administrative region, has no rights to alter its constitutional system, Qiao said.

He stressed that all the interpretations are compliant to the Basic Law and other regulations on the constitutional system of the HKSAR.

The interpretations indicate that a constitutional law like the Basic Law has to be understood in relation to the legal status of the HKSAR and the principles behind it.

Only on this basis, can the meaning of the specific provisions of the Basic Law be precisely understood, Qiao noted.

He said that the NPC Standing Committee has exercised its right to interpret the Basic Law in a very prudent and serious manner. The interpretations are expected to play a positive role in the understanding and implementation of the "one country, two systems" principle while ensuring the constitutional development of Hong Kong and securing its long-term prosperity and stability.

Hong Kong reacts

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said Tuesday the interpretation of the Basic Law by China's top legislature has provided "the most authoritative" legal basis for the debate on constitutional development in Hong Kong.

He said at a news conference the clarification has laid a solid foundation for the SAR government's next stage of work.

Tung refuted the claim by some locals that the NPCSC interpretation has set up hurdles against Hong Kong's political reform process.

"Constitutional development in Hong Kong is a major issue of the nation, not only of the SAR," he said. "The central government has the power and responsibility to decide on it."

Democratic progress should be achieved in accordance with the Basic Law and in a way that maintains Hong Kong's prosperity and stability and serves the overall interests of the SAR, he said.

Tung was asked what he would take into account when submitting a report to the NPCSC regarding the amendment of the selection methods of the chief executive and the legislature after 2007.

The report would be made open to the public, he replied, adding that he would fully reflect the views of Hong Kong people in his report.

Chief Secretary Donald Tsang, who heads the Task Force on Constitutional Development, said he would submit to Tung the second report on issues of principle in mid-April.

Once the report is endorsed by Tung, it will be submitted to the central government for approval.

The task force will then commence discussion on concrete options concerning political reform under the established premise and will consult broadly and openly with the Legislative Council and the public, he said.

"As now the NPC Standing Committee has handed down its interpretation of the procedures, various doubts surrounding the procedures have been clarified,'' he said.

"If the central government gives us the affirmation to amend the election methods, I believe there will be ample time for the next round of consultation and, if necessary, amendment of local laws."

Peter Wong, a local deputy to the National People's Congress, said the interpretation could put an end to quarrels over constitutional reform as it contains the clear message that the central government has the final say in changing the electoral methods of the chief executive and Legislative Council (LegCo).

Hong Kong people will become more aware of "one country" after the NPC Standing Committee interpretation, Wong told China Daily.

"As long as we consider the political reform from the 'one country' perspective, we can have a more smooth discussion on the issue," he said.

Tsang Hin-chi, a member of the NPCSC, said in Beijing Tuesday that the interpretation was "mild and clear".

He urged Hong Kong people to set store by the overall interests of the city and not to blindly oppose the interpretation.

Ma Lik, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, said the interpretation has taken into account the views of the Hong Kong community and the Task Force on Constitutional Development. It has helped clarify the grey areas concerning electoral provisions in the Basic Law.

"We consider the interpretation as fair, legal and reasonable," he said.

He hoped the chief executive would fully consult Hong Kong people before submitting the report on proposals to change electoral methods to the NPCSC. In this way, local citizens would be involved in the political-reform process from the very beginning.

Albert Chan, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said the interpretation clearly states the roles of the central government and the SAR government in Hong Kong's political reform. It also makes clear that the SAR government has the power to initiate the changes of electoral methods, he said.

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