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Beijing's phoney flower tricks
Paul Lin

A Protest March Against Article 23 in Hong Kong

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On Jan. 28, the Hong Kong government held a press conference to announce the opinions and suggestions submitted by the public on the proposed legislation for enacting an anti-subversive law as mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law.

The government concluded its consultation with the public on the proposed legislation on Dec. 24. It hurriedly studied and handled more than 100,000 suggestions in a little more than one month and came up with some revisions to the proposed law. The efficiency was almost unprecedented -- an indication that the consultation was phoney.

The hasty announcement of revisions was also timed for just before the Lunar New Year, when Hong Kong residents were busy preparing for the holiday. The distractions allowed the government to get away with fudging the controversial issues.

During the consultation period, the government received 100,909 opinion statements bearing the signatures of 369,612 people. Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the public opinion program at the University of Hong Kong, wrote an article that raised several questions about the processing of those suggestions. Chung found that 60 percent of those who submitted opinions opposed the legislation, but the government said 67 percent actually supported the draft law. It was able to do this because the letters were handled separately from the signatures on the signature forms, thereby creating a result which showed support for and opposition to the legislation are about even.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, the Democratic Party and the Hong Kong Journalists Association have clearly come out against the legislation, but the authorities listed their opinions in "Category C" -- meaning no explicit views supporting or opposing the legislation.

Organizations such as the China Labor Bulletin discovered that their 260 submissions were not even included in the compendium. A Security Bureau official admitted receiving the submissions, but said the bureau had rejected them because they had not been handed in the specified manner.

Pro-Beijing media and politicians were quick to pile kudos on the government's revisions to the draft law, saying that the changes had eased residents' worries, would guarantee press freedoms and so on. An editorial in the Apple Daily, however, said the government had not made any real compromise. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Hong Kong Economic Journal expressed happiness that the government had compromised, but said that it was not enough. Edward Chan, the new chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, described the revisions as minor progress but still unacceptable.

The government's so-called compromises were meticulously designed. For example, the crime of "possession of seditious publications" was deleted, but "dealing with seditious publications" would still be a crime. The scope of what would constitute classified information relating to "relations between the central authorities of the PRC and the HKSAR" was narrowed down to cover only defense and diplomacy -- in a clear attempt to curry favor with the media.

The definition of the "theft" of secret information has also been narrowed down in order to placate business circles. The "extra-territoriality" effect on non-PRC citizens committing "treason" has also been deleted in order to placate long-term foreign residents. The purpose of these changes is to sow discord among the opposition.

There were other compromises, but the Hong Kong government made no compromise whatsoever on the key issue -- preventing the encroachment of Chinese law into the territory. It insists on restricting organizations that have been banned in China. This point was not stipulated in Article 23, yet the government insists on enacting such a provision. This is the biggest threat to religious, semi-religious and activist organizations, including the Falun Gong. It is also the primary reason why the authorities are in such a hurry to enact the legislation.

All these moves have been orchestrated by the Hong Kong government and Beijing. At a press conference called to announce the revisions, Secretary for Security Regina Ip refused to answer questions on whether Beijing had been consulted on the changes. She would only say that the government had "followed the appropriate procedure."

On the morning of Jan. 28, the Executive Council, the government's highest decision-making body, was still holding a closed-door meeting to discuss whether to present a more detailed "White Bill" for further consultation with the public. At the press conference Ip said that no final decision had been made on the matter and that there was no timetable for the legislation. However, the Xinhua News Agency had reported at 11:32am that the government had decided to publish the draft law in the government gazette on Feb. 26, and submit it to the Legislative Council within a week in the hope that the legislation would be completed before the council's recess in July.

Apparently the so-called discussions were all phoney. The top leadership of the Hong Kong government and China long ago set a timetable for the legislation, but Beijing does not understand the territory's operational procedures and as a result leaked a "state secret" too early.

Beijing's rush reflects the insecure mind of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. But can such acts stop the global trend toward democracy?

* Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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