Is This The End of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Principle?

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Witness how Beijing is trying to undermine the provisions Sino-British Joint Declaration.

In an interview with WION on 25 May, the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy activist Joshua Wong said, “We must put Hong Kong under the global spotlight and urge fellow stakeholders of the global community to stand with Hong Kong.” Hong Kong has been flooded with protestors on the streets chanting slogans like “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” while the police have been retaliating with pepper spray projectiles, tear gas and water cannons leading to the arrest of more than 200 people. To the activist’s delight, these protests have been getting the Global attention with US leading the group as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized China and urged it to “reconsider its disastrous proposal” while respecting “Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties”. Here, the “disastrous proposal” was China’s recently proposed bill and now the National Security Law. It intents to criminalize succession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in the Special Administrative Region. It also, allows mainland agencies to set up institutions in Hong Kong. Many pro-democrats see this as an attempt to cease the freedom of Hong Kong’s citizens which have been enshrined in their mini-constitution called Basic Law. Many critics have pointed out China’s attempts to undermine the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle which was agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. One of such critics is Civic Party Lawmaker and Pro-Democrat Dennis Kwok, who unflinchingly said, “This is the death of Hong Kong”

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The Joint Declaration of 1984 goes back to the First Opium War on 4 September 1839 between the Qing Dynasty of China and the United Kingdom leading to the British victory. The 2 years and 11 months long battle ultimately led to a peace treaty between the two sides called the ‘Treaty of Nanking’ on 29 August 1842. Through this treaty, Hong Kong was ceded to the British side. Hong Kong was an essential port where they could carry out trade activities with the Chinese and the rest of the South Asian subcontinent. The year of 1894 brought the first Sino-Japanese War which lasted for a year culminating in the victory of the Japanese Imperial Army. The war debilitated the Qing Empire leading widespread internal opposition against the Imperial government. While the rebellion was brewing within the Chinese territory, European powers tried to take advantage of the situation. In the year of 1898, the Russians, the Germans, and the Frenchs forced the weakened Qing Empire to lease the Chinese regions like Port Arthur, Jiaozhou Bay, Kwang-Chou-Wan for a stipulation. Hence, the UK in the wake of balancing the powers stressed the Chinese for the expansion of Hong Kong territory that resulted in the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, a treaty which leased Hong Kong and its expanded area to Britain for 99 years starting from 1 July 1898.

So, the Joint Declaration of 1984 signed between then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and UK Prime Minister Margret Thatcher declared the handover of Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997 but as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). The SAR will work on the Principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ which means that the People of Hong Kong would be granted the rights they were enjoying under colonial rule and could continue with their capitalist way of living in the region would have full autonomy except in foreign affairs and defence. SAR was also relinquished its own independent Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. But, the status and the rights it entails would expire after 50 years on 1 July 2047. With adherence to the declaration, China’s rubber-stamp parliament established in 1985 established a drafting committee for drafting the Basic Law or Mini Constitution of Hong Kong whose very first Article declared Hong Kong as a part of the People’s Republic of China.

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What is spooky with the new National Security Law is that it goes against the provisions of the Basic Law. It outrightly exploits the Article 23 of the Mini Constitution which clearly states, “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region”. With its implementation, the dragon would impose its authority over highly westernized Hong Kong. Chinese authorities have used last year’s violent protests against highly controversial extradition bill as a subtext to pass the bill that speaks of tackling terrorism. For China, terrorism here represents the students who retaliated to the police brutalities. This means that China through this law wanted to thwart the freedom of assembly and expression both enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law. For a one-party dictatorship like China, treason is anything that challenges the anti-hegemonic discourse. The Pro-Democracy activists, the dissenters, journalists, and rational journalists are now more susceptible to arbitrary arrests if they express their opinions which would be another violation of Article 28. Joshua Wong who was initially mentioned was arrested in ­­­September 27, 2014  for inciting the public to join a protest but was later released on bail. Hong Kong provides its people facing conviction, the right to prove their innocence encrusted in Article 87 which this law can overthrow. Professor Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong said in an interview, “Almost all trials involving national security (in China) are conducted behind closed doors. It is never clear what exactly the allegations and the evidence are and the term national security is so vague that it could cover almost anything”. Hence, this single law restricts the rights and freedom of Hong Kong which is also denouncing Article 39.

This is not the first time when the Chinese are bringing changes in such a National Security Law. In 2003, it proposed a very similar law which met widespread criticism and thunderous public outrage. As mentioned in the Basic Law, Hong Kong is required to make its own laws of national security under Article 23 but the general public fears China is overexploiting the law to its own advantage. When the National People’s Congress proposed a National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill 2003 in February to the legislative council of Hong Kong, it resulted in 1 July Protests which brought 500,000 citizens to the streets. Joshua Wong even stated that this time the Law will not even go to the legislative council for the review and dragons will this time attempt to “bypass” the legislative council. He also added, “the separation of power exists in the name only”.

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In October 2016, a major scuffle broke out in the legislative assembly of Hong Kong when localist lawmakers Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-Ching were about to take their oaths and shouted a derogatory word for China and also raised the flag saying, “Hong Kong is not China”. Both of them were later disqualified in November from their respective roles. This proded China to ‘Interpret’ article 104 of the Hong Kong constitution for legislators to swear allegiance to Hong Kong as a part of China and any non-solemn words during the oath would bar them from public office. That was the fifth time that China interpreted this law. Article 158(1) provides NPCSC (Chinese Parliament) the power of final interpretation without any reference to any Hong Kong Institution. Beijing in this way curtails Hong Kong’s judicial independence by delivering an interpretation of the Basic Law

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is formally appointed by Beijing. Most of the top lawmakers in the legislature (43 out of 70) are leaders who have a great affinity to the mainland government. Therefore, laws favoring Chinese interests take no time to pass while review ultimately turns out to be a sham and a facade. This is why the pro-democratic movements are on the rise and many youths are identifying themselves as Hongkongers. Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, in a statement on 26 May during her weekly Press Conference dismissed the concerns related to the ‘draft proposal’ by stating, “What is to be provided in this piece of legislation is for all of us to see, in order to be assured, that Hong Kong’s freedoms will be preserved”. The international community is also displaying its support to Hong Kong and its democratic movement. Australia, Canada, and UK released a joint statement on 22 May which said: “Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy”. According to a report by Bloomberg, the US is likely to sanction China if it implements the highly autocratic bill which is not very surprising considering its constant recent efforts to annihilate China on the diplomatic front.

Joshua recently in an interview with CNBC summed up and said that this bill “is even eviler than the extradition bill last summer”.  

Image Source – New York Times

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