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Hong Kong betrayed by its own
Paul Lin

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When SARS was spreading in Hong Kong, the government of the territory never ceased moving toward passage of legislation mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law. Instead, they took advantage of the public's preoccupation with the epidemic to play a few tricks.

For example, on April 12 the Legislative Council Bills Committee convened its first public hearing on Article 23. The original purpose of the session was to collect opinions from the public, but the Legislative Council was exceedingly low-key in the run-up to the event. Being concerned with the SARS epidemic, the opposition didn't take note of this meeting, with the result that those attending were all "insiders."

Thus, the meeting evolved into a forum for the camp supporting legislation to settle accounts with the opposition. The Democratic Party, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the Hong Kong Bar Association, the media and the Hong Kong Journalists Association were all described as traitors and "black hands" blocking the passage of legislation. In short, "national security" took precedence over everything else. This is also why the government has termed the legislation mandated by Article 23 national security legislation.

The debate between the two sides has come to a head. The government-manipulated council broke the government's promise to consult the public fully and passed a resolution to hold an additional three-and-a-half hours of meetings every Saturday beginning last month. In other words, every week a total of seven-and-a-half hours of accelerated deliberations are being held to discuss the legislation mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law. The goal is to pass a second and third reading in the Legislative Council by July 9.

On June 3, the government took advantage of the public's focus on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident to suddenly push forth yet another draft revision of legislation pertaining to national security. On the surface, the government appeared to have made some compromises.

For example, authorization for searches and seizures made without a warrant must now come from a police officer of the rank of assistant commissioner instead of merely a chief superintendent. Like previous amendments, however, these have also added some harsher regulations. Those that most shocked the legal world are related to mechanisms in the appeals process for societies that are proscribed under Chinese law and which Hong Kong has accordingly proscribed as well.

Certain powers originally assigned to the Court of Final Appeal -- including the power to proscribe societies in absentia and hold closed-door hearings to consider appeals against proscription -- were partially allotted to the Secretary for Security, who will be responsible for setting legal principle. The actual letter of the law will be determined by the court in accord with such principle, but based on this principle, the Secretary for Security will be able to legally present evidence that has not been accepted by the court. In other words, groundless rumor will now be usable as evidence.

A number of prominent lawyers have described this situation as giving a blank check to the Secretary for Security. For this reason they charge that the more the draft bill is revised, the worse it becomes. One can understand why the authorities are acting this way.

First, the point of establishing national security laws is to extend China's law to Hong Kong in order to destroy the rule of law in the territory. Thus, expanding the powers of the Secretary for Security is a way of replacing the rule of law with "rule by personality."

Second, Secretary for Security Regina Ip has been a valiant fighter in the legislative process. She has been described as a "female Hitler" and as another "Jiang Qing". From China's point of view, this naturally means that she can be relied upon and might as well be given major powers to oppress the territory's citizens.

This is not the full extent of the problem. On June 14 and 15, the Hong Kong Bar Association, the University of Hong Kong Law School, and the City University of Hong Kong Law School sponsored an international symposium to discuss Article 23. Legal experts and authorities from the US, the UK and Canada participated, and legislators from Hong Kong's democratic faction also attended.

Pro-Communist legislators on the Legislative Council Bills Committee grasped this opportunity to complete all deliberations on the draft bill within the span of a few hours on June 14. Then they also passed a resolution "never to overturn the bill," thereby preventing legislators from the democratic faction from requesting any further deliberations.

Since the territory's government has been pushing to pass national security legislation without the slightest regard for public opinion, it has become clear that the chief executive selected by a small group of several hundred people and a minority of legislative councilors who are popularly elected will never be able to prevent pro-Communist figures from selling out Hong Kong. Thus cries for a popularly elected chief executive have once again arisen.

Moreover, the Basic Law stipulates that how the chief executive is elected after 2007 can be discussed in the Legislative Council, with any decision submitted to Beijing for approval. When the Legislative Council Constitutional Affairs Committee recently convened a public hearing to discuss the method of electing a chief executive in 2007, however, pro-Communist groups turned out in force at the meeting to voice their opposition to a popular election.

Furthermore, when the meeting was nearly over and most democratic legislators had already left to attend other meetings, the remaining legislators passed a motion by a seven-to-one vote preventing further discussion on the question of electing a chief executive in the remainder of this legislative session.

The above-mentioned despotic behavior on the part of pro-Communist figures and the government's suppression of public opinion are provoking more and more public anger. The only chance for the people of Hong Kong is to take to the streets in protest on July 1, the sixth anniversary of the territory's retrocession to China. It is predicted that this will be the biggest street demonstration in Hong Kong since 1997, far exceeding the 60,000 people who took to the streets on Dec. 15 last year to oppose national security legislation.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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