"One Country Two Systems" Revisited

June 30, 2020 2:08 PM
By Cllr Marguerita Morton
  1. Marguerita Morton and Paddy AshdownThe 13th National People's Congress (NPC) has just passed a new law on 30th June to introduce a system of "National Security" to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) so China will have power over its long term stability. The national security law seeks to ban acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, in accordance with its laws including any "foreign or external interference". Criticism of the national anthem will also be outlawed and mainland Chinese security agents will be able to set up offices in HK.

This comes on the heels of the arrest of 15 pro-democracy legislators and activists. The Chinese Government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office have accused them for filibustering and of breaching their Legislative Council Oath. The HK Bar Association believes that this is further evidence of loss of autonomy. Indeed, they have now banned one of Hong Kong's main pro-democracy protagonists, Joshua Wong, from standing for election. Wong has now stepped down from Demosisto, the pro-democracy organisation he founded.

At the time of writing this, it is not clear whether under the new law HKSAR judges will be able to adjudicate national security cases. This has led to the Hong Kong Bar Association suggesting breaches of Article 22 of the Basic Law which states that "No department of the Central People's Government and no province, autonomous region or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law."

Beijing has accused Hong Kong of not enacting Article 23 but that, had HK implemented its own security law, it would not be necessary to step in now. Recent statements by Beijing say the Basic Law empowers the Central People's Government with regard to national security because it is of such importance that central governments have responsibility as their role is safeguarding of unity and stability, whilst at the same time it empowers HKSAR "with a high degree of autonomy" allowing it to practice a system different from those of the mainland.

I believe that if one reads the text of the Basic Law, it is clear that the autonomy given to the SAR is only to maintain HK's stability and administrative efficiency. Once threatened with instability in the eyes of the Central Communist Party (CCP) with regard to national security, central government resumes control. Last year there were free district council elections where 3m residents or 76.8% voted for pro democracy candidates in 17 out of 18 districts. Now there is a fear that Beijing will control nomination of senior officials to the Legislative Council and of course the Chief Executive.

The United Kingdom and the international community must call on China to respect Hong Kong's legal system guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law. If it will not, then the United Kingdom government must grant all Hong Kong residents regardless of whether they hold the British National (Overseas) passport the right of abode and full citizenship rights in order to protect Hong Kong residents from loss of their fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to them by the laws of HKSAR and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

At the end of May, China blocked an attempt by the Trump Administration to hold a United Nations Security Council meeting on the proposed national security law. USA then said it could no longer certify Hong Kong's political autonomy from China, and this could trigger sanctions which would have far reaching consequences on Hong Kong's trading status with the US. Hong Kong is dependent on its international rules-based system on attracting foreign investment into China.

In summary, the UK would be best placed to pursue a rules based system that is underpinned by international treaties such as the Joint Sino-British Declaration and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. The UK should also refrain from joining the US in its belligerent attitudes to China especially in foreign policy by threatening China in the South China Sea. These are matters which are better dealt with at the multilateral level of diplomacy such as the United Nations or WTO.

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