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Taiwan must guard its democracy
Paul Lin
12/19/2003

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Beijing has given strong economic support to Hong Kong after the demonstration on July 1 in which 500,000 people took part, but it has not given ground on demands for political reform and giving political power to the people.

For this reason, the District Council elections on Nov. 23 set the record for the highest voter turnout ever. The Democrats won by a landslide and pro-Communist factions suffered a major defeat. On Dec. 2, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa visited Beijing to report to his bosses. He was received separately by Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and Premier Wen Jiabao.

According to reports from the Xinhua News Agency, Hu said after hearing Tung's opinions on Hong Kong society's recent review of the political system: "[I] hope the Special Administrative Region will continue its efforts to improve communications with all walks of life in Hong Kong, be close to the general public, experience and observe the public's feelings and draw on the wisdom of the masses to constantly improve services for Hong Kong residents."

Regarding the issue of political development, Hu said: "The central [government] is very much concerned with the development of Hong Kong's political system, with a clear-cut position of principle. The central government holds the view that the political system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must proceed from the actual situation in the region, and progress in order and gradually in line with the Basic Law ... [I] believe the Hong Kong community will be able to reach a broad-based consensus on the issue."

Initially, due to wishful thinking about the new Hu-Wen administration, the Hong Kong media focused merely on the phrase "be close to the general public [and] experience and observe the public's feelings," believing that it was Hu's "new three principles of the people." The talk about "proceeding from the actual situation" and "progress in order and gradually" was merely the parroting of Basic Law articles. Therefore, the media believed the CPC would consider Hong Kong residents' demand for political reforms.

What happened later proved that the good people of Hong Kong had been too naive. They had not realized that, when Hu was reciting the Basic Law provisions, he did away with the clauses about the "ultimate aims" of electing the chief executive and legislative councilors by universal suffrage.

On Dec. 4, no sooner did Tung leave Beijing than the Xinhua News Agency issued a long article entitled "Legal Experts Discuss the Development of Hong Kong's Political System." In that article, four "great defenders of the law" -- professor Xiao Weiyun of Peking University (who participated in the drafting of Hong Kong's Basic Law); professor Xu Chongde of the People's University; Wu Jianfan, a researcher at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Xia Yong, director of the same institute -- interpreted the law. Their interpretation was a slap in the face for the Hong Kong people demanding political reforms and giving political power to the people.

The gist of the article was as follows: First, one must take note of and uphold the "one country" premise of "one country, two systems." "One country" must not be damaged. Second, the election of the chief executive and legislative councilors is not an affair internal to Hong Kong.

The next day, in an RTHK interview, Xu said even more clearly that the central government should decide whether Hong Kong needs to amend the regulations for the election of the chief executive and the Legislative Council, and whether the amendment procedure can be activated. If the people of Hong Kong were to decide on the matter, that would amount to letting Hong Kong become independent, he said.

The annexes to Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulate that any amendments to the election procedures for the chief executive and the Legislative Council after 2007 "must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the chief executive." Such amendments must also be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, "for approval" in the case of the chief executive's election, and "for the record" in the case of the Legislative Council election.

Albert Chen, a professor from the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, pointed out: "In the past, only when we had discussed and reached a consensus would we bring [the matter] to the central [government]. What the experts are now saying is that it does not merely depend on Hong Kong's public opinion. The central [government] also has a say. [It] will not necessarily agree with Hong Kong's majority public opinion."

Chen was too timid. He sounded like others were experts but he was not one. In fact, it is a question of who has the power to activate the amendment mechanism. According to the Basic Law's provisions, that power should be in the hands of the Legislative Council, but Beijing believes it can dominate the matter entirely. Another problem is that, because the right to interpret the Basic Law is in Beijing's hands, the people of Hong Kong can only bow their heads and obey unless they want to confront Beijing openly.

The Chinese Communist Party's trampling of Hong Kong's public opinion and its wanton distortion of its "mini-constitution" have further highlighted the importance and urgency of referendums and a new constitution in Taiwan. The US should realize that Taiwan absolutely must not repeat the tragedy of Hong Kong's fall into Communist hands and the impact this would have on the democratic camp.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.


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