April 07, 2004
Does it matter?
There has been a predictable uproar in response to the NPC decision on HK and the Basic Law. For the curious the interpretations are reproduced in full here. The crux remains the same: Beijing has the final word on these matters. In fact the chorus of complaint is wasted: Beijing has won this round of the battle. Their hand was forced by the incompetence of Chief Exec Tung Chee-hwa and the 500,000 person march last July. Indeed there was no other possible response open to the Communists, so the outrage and bellowing in response is just going through the motions. And it misses a key point.
NOTE: Now updated at the end of the extended entry
In some respects Beijing is right. They are the sovereign power that controls Hong Kong. Regionalism is a growing issue in many countries but in almost all countries regions still give way to the central Government. It is intrinsic in the definition of a country. In this case Beijing are asserting their rights as the sovereign power to control the political outcomes of one of its regions. Central governments do this all the time - for example Indian history is littered with examples of the central government throwing out various state governments. Going further, even though it is a farce the Beijing Government is going through the correct motions in imposing its interpretation of the Basic Law. It is using its (admittedly rubber stamp) parliament to impose its views on a region. The Basic Law recognises China as the sovereign power. So what's the problem?
Well, there's several. That same Basic Law states in the preamble:
In accordance with the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the National People's Congress hereby enacts the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, prescribing the systems to be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in order to ensure the implementation of the basic policies of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong.It also states in Article 2:
The National People's Congress authorizes the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of this Law.Then try Article 11:
In accordance with Article 31 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the systems and policies practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, including the social and economic systems, the system for safeguarding the fundamental rights and freedoms of its residents, the executive, legislative and judicial systems, and the relevant policies, shall be based on the provisions of this Law.It all seems quite clear. Even clearer are the Articles in question. Article 45:
The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government...The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administration Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedure."The same applies for the Legislative Council, but let's assume the two issues are one and the same. So Beijing how does get out of it? Well there's a whole Annex that provides plenty of weasels, with lines like "if there's a need to amend" to the laws. They talk about maintaining "gradual and orderly progress and balanced representation." Balance is in the eye of the beholder, and Beijing is that beholder. They see themselves as a senate like body, sitting over and above the polity of Hong Kong itself. They even have the chutzpah to finish this new ruling with this:
The Hong Kong Basic Law has explicit stipulations on the principle of development of democracy and provides for the ultimate goal of selecting the Chief Executive and members of the Legislative Council through universal suffrage. Since Hong Kong's return to the motherland, positive and steady progress has been made in its democratic system. The people of Hong Kong have become masters of their own destiny and are enjoying broad democratic rights that they had never been entitled to before the return. Democracy in Hong Kong will be further developed and improved in practice in accordance with the Hong Kong Basic Law.It is impossible to see how this can be the case in light of this ruling. But consistency isn't the point here. The point is that Beijing has the final say, not the Basic Law. In other words, the Basic Law has been exposed as a sham, again.
However Beijing face a real problem. This whole process was kicked off in answer to the 500,000 person march last July. They saw this as a definitive answer, a way of closing down the debate and hopes for democracy in Hong Kong, at least for the time being. They dismissed the march as a response to the poor economic climate. They dismissed it as a walk for people on a public holiday. What is no doubt busy exercising minds in both Beijing and Hong Kong is what can they do if another 500,000 people march this year. The economy's picked up. Clearly people aren't out for a walk. The pressure on Tung Chee-hwa will be stronger than ever to step down - which he can't because it would be seen giving in to public pressure. Despite Hong Kong, at least in theory, heading on the road to democracy. And the CCP in Beijing will be in a real bind. Because how do you contain something once your solution has failed? The problem for them is they cannot and this response to last year will only make people more determined, not less.
And then Beijing will have a real problem on their hands.
UPDATE: As usual Andres has more astute observations on the subject. One point he makes is the intrinsic contradictions that exist within the Basic Law. The Basic Law is the result of two different parties with two very different agendas compromising against an imposing deadline. The British were desperate to leave a lasting legacy to HK in the form of democracy (ironic a colonial ruler got the democracy bug so late; especially when they also left the place in an immeasurably better condition than they found it, with a nice dowry to boot); the Chinese were desperate to get their hands on the place with their usual command and control strucutre, albeit with a capitalist system intact to keep the golden goose laying the eggs. The deadline was 1997 handover, and the Basic Law needed to be decided. Both sides needed to "win", but the reality was the British had little to negotiate with but needed a fig leaf to cover themselves and leave as a "good" coloniser. Thus the Basic Law contains ambiguities, contradictions and distortions. It leaves enough room for the CCP to drive a tank through. And that's just what they're doing.
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Interpreting the NPC's interpretation
Excerpt: Simon has a good post on the NPCâ€™s recent interpretation of Hong Kongâ€™s Basic Law. Iâ€™d like to riff a little bit more on it here. Before I dig in though, Iâ€™d like to make clear Iâ€™m not a lawyer
Weblog: andrÃ©sgentry :: water
Tracked: April 7, 2004 07:32 PM
Tracked: April 8, 2005 12:09 AM
Great clear and concise summary of the issue at hand--it's nice to know that the odd uncomfortable feeling I get when reading the glowing paternalistic reports in the mainland press has a firm basis in fact and it's not just some anti PRC prejudice.posted by: zhwj on 04.07.04 at 07:08 PM [permalink]