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UPDATED: April 13, 2015 NO. 16, APRIL 16, 2015
Celebrating a Law Pivotal to Hong Kong's Future

LEGAL CORNERSTONE: Visitors attend an exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Hong Kong's Basic Law in Hong Kong on April 4 (HE JINGJIA)

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) was adopted at the Third Session of the Seventh National People's Congress, China's top legislature, on April 4, 1990. Seven years later, the Hong Kong SAR was officially set up. At a gathering commemorating the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Basic Law in Beijing in late March, government officials, scholars and experts aired their views on topics such as "one country, two systems" and universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Excerpts follow:

Prioritizing 'one country'

Rao Geping (Director of the Institute of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs of the Development Research Center of the State Council): It is unprecedented for a socialist country to allow the existence of capitalism in regions within its boundaries and grant them a high degree of autonomy. The past 18 years since Hong Kong's return have implied that the region will be able to steadily develop as long as the "one country, two systems" principle and the Basic Law are abided by. Deviation from or violation of the aforementioned, however, may lead to setbacks.

As well as being the architect and initiator of this principle, the Central Government is, more importantly, the entity that holds immediate responsibility for its success or failure. It has every reason to play a decisive role throughout the process of the implementation of the principle. In doing this, balancing the relationship between "one country" and "two systems" is vital. The purpose of this principle covers two equally important concerns: safeguarding the state's sovereignty, security and development interests, in addition to maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. The principle of "one country" comes ahead of "two systems," however, and will always maintain the predominant role in the relationship.

While the Central Government must ensure a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, it must be sufficiently strong-minded and determined to execute the powers stipulated by the Constitution and the Basic Law. As a regional constitutional law, the Basic Law is supreme among local laws. However, it is not the Constitution. Trying to cut the bonds or confuse the connections between the Constitution and the Basic Law is nothing less than an attempt to make Hong Kong a discrete political entity.

Huang Lanfa (deputy head of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong SAR): Since the SAR Government launched the first round of political reform consultation in December 2013, so far, the SAR has finished two of the five steps outlined in the program for Hong Kong's political development. Some salient points have emerged from this process:

First, respecting the rule of law is a fundamental prerequisite for universal suffrage. For Hong Kong to put universal suffrage into practice, the Basic Law and its attendant regulations must be complied with.

Second, it's important to seize the opportunity with respect to the practice of universal suffrage. Whether or not it's possible to realize universal suffrage in 2017 concerns not only the development of democracy in Hong Kong, but also the region's economic and social development. If it is successful, a better-recognized chief executive enjoying more extensive public support is likely to lead the governance team to devote more energy and resources to improving the economy and quality of life in Hong Kong. If the scheme is rejected, democratic development will stagnate, thus affecting social development. Political factions in Hong Kong should all act in the overall interests of the SAR.

Third, conforming to public opinion is essential to successful implementation. A striking feature of this political reform is its countenance of the explicit public demand for universal suffrage in 2017. Last year, more than 1.8 million residents in Hong Kong signed on a petition to support peace and universal suffrage. Recently, Hong Kong's 18 district councils urged reaching consensus on the matter as soon as possible. As public representatives, Hong Kong lawmakers are expected to respect the public's opinions and support the approval of the political reform scheme, so as to ensure that every voter can vote in 2017.

Lau Siu Kai (an emeritus professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong): Around 18 years have passed since Hong Kong's return, but still some Hong Kongers hold too simple and biased an understanding of the relationship between the Central Government and the SAR Government. They think the chief executive possesses full authority to appoint and dismiss major officials who answer solely to the chief executive and not to the Central Government. This does not comply with the principle of "one country, two systems" and the spirit of the Basic Law.

Fostering national identity

Priscilla Leung (a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong): Recent years have seen radical opinions gaining traction in Hong Kong, implying that a number of local residents are still ill-informed as regards the "one country, two systems" policy. Some local people regard "one country, two systems" as a sure thing, but are unaware of the steps needed to make it a reality and its singular status as an innovation unparalleled in the world. Owing to its uniqueness, the Central Government needs to explain not only to the people of Hong Kong but also to the people on the Chinese mainland that this national policy is beneficial to all sides. The fate of Hong Kong is intertwined with that of the whole country.

The government as well as the legislative and judicial bodies of the Hong Kong SAR execute powers authorized by the Central Government in the first instance, which shows the Central Government possesses more comprehensive powers. However, some locals have a weak sense of national identity and gradually, whenever the Central Government executes powers granted by the Constitution and the Basic Law, they attempt to undermine the practice. This is a trend incompatible with the principle of "one country, two systems." The white paper titled The Practice of the "One Country, Two Systems" Policy in the Hong Kong SAR issued last June explained the successful implementation of the principle, making it clear that the Central Government grants the SAR Government the power of governance, rather than decentralizing central power to it.

Conducting a comprehensive review of the history and practice of the "one country, two systems" principle and the relationship between the Central Government and the SAR Government aimed at informing people in Hong Kong and the international community would go a long way toward smoothing the further implementation of the principle.

Maria Tam (a member of the Hong Kong SAR Basic Law Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress): The Occupy Central campaign broke out last September, with many of its participants being adolescents. The fundamental cause for the eruption of this large-scale movement is a misunderstanding of the principle of "one country, two systems" at the local level, particularly among young people.

The negotiations on Hong Kong between China and Britain started at the beginning of the 1980s. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, and the drafting of the Basic Law commenced in 1985, with the law being passed by the National People's Congress in 1990. Hong Kong was smoothly returned to China in 1997. As they were still very young at that time, those who were born in the 1980s and the 1990s are not au fait with the talks between China and Britain, the drafting of the Basic Law or for that matter, disputes occurring in the transitional period and their roots.

The young are not alone in lacking the basic relevant knowledge. Before Hong Kong's return, the British Hong Kong Government practiced "desinification" in their education policy, avoiding the modern history of China. As a result, most Hong Kong people know little about the hardship and suffering the Chinese nation once experienced. They don't know how the People's Republic of China came into being after tough confrontation with countries invading China.

Since the repatriation of Hong Kong, anti-reunification propaganda has leant on the "two systems" side of the equation, rarely if ever touching upon "one country." Also, it is falsely believed that as long as prosperity reigns in Hong Kong, the residents will naturally feel close to their motherland. However, Hong Kong is a place that prizes diversity and is closely connected to the rest of the world, its thinking and core values influenced by external factors. Thus if the SAR Government fails to take proactive measures to educate the public, it will remain difficult to develop a sense of solidarity and national identity.

Copyedited by Eric Daly

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