Hong Kong's former chief secretary Anson Chan, who headed the former British colony’s civil service, has warned about the erosion of the “one-country-two-systems”, as guaranteed in the joint declaration signed by China and Britain on the former colony’s future after the 1997 handover.
Often called Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady”, Chan helped launch in 2013, the Hong Kong 2020 campaign, which advocated constitutional changes in order to achieve full universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council by 2020.
Speaking at the Asia Society in New York, Chan told moderator Gordon Crovitz, a former editor and publisher of the now defunct The Far Eastern Economic Review published from Hong Kong, that the joint declaration, ratified by both China and Britain in 1984, was binding on China which had to honour the obligations as far as Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy are concerned.
The declaration served as the basis for the subsequent drafting and promulgation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the basic law, she said.
“Although it does not mention a timetable for universal suffrage, it spells out in what way Hong Kong should be different from mainland China, and it holds out that Hong Kong will progressively move towards genuine universal suffrage of one-man-one-vote, not the sort of version which Beijing would like to impose on Hong Kong.”
Chan said that, in her view, it is a “bit ridiculous” for mainland Chinese officials to describe as “foreign interference” whenever anybody speaks about the erosion of the “one-country-two-systems” and the chipping away of Hong Kong’s lifestyle and core values.
“It is nothing of the sort,” she declared. Beijing could not simply walk away with impunity on its international treaty obligations to Hong Kong and, if It did, “then, I think, the rest of the world should be worried about China’s commitment to all its other international treaty obligations – to your country, to the EU countries, etc, etc.”
She also reminded the British government that this is a legally and morally binding document and Britain “owes the Hong Kong people the legal and moral obligation to speak up and ensure that China sticks to its word”.
Carrie Lam (photo), Hong Kong’s chief executive since July 2017, has been urged to raise questions with Beijing about Hong Kong’s system and its people.
Chan said that the last election – the “so-called free election” – of the chief executive was “certainly not a free election and this time Beijing and, particularly, its liaison office in Hong Kong “did not even bother to maintain the fig leaf that it was a free election.
"’It was an open secret that the liaison office had muscled in and twisted arms so that some people who supported the other contender, our previous financial secretary John Tsang, were made to change their vote to support Carrie.”
Chan hopes that Carrie Lam would use every opportunity to demonstrate to the Hong Kong people that she “understands our fears and concerns, and that she would help us defend the one-country-two-systems, and do battle on Hong Kong’s behalf."
Emphasising that she was a Chinese patriot, Chan recalled that Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese strong man, had said that one did not have to accept communist ideology to be patriotic.
Chan lamented that “if you measure one-country-two-systems by the usual yardstick which are the rule of law, basic rights and freedom, particularly, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and law, independence of the judiciary, I am sorry to say that all these are under pressure.
"’While the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, generally speaking, work well, there are increasingly worrying signs that cracks are beginning to appear”.
She referred to a white paper issued in 2014 by China’s state council, which stated Beijing has comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong, that members of the judiciary, as part of the administration, must keep in mind the national security and development interests in delivering judgement in courts.
“Now this is completely at odds with the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, and in the ensuing years since 2014 Beijing is making increasingly clear that what little autonomy Hong Kong enjoys is for Beijing to decide and to take it away at will,” she said.
She also talked about the fate of press freedom and the media in Hong Kong which witnessed increasing self-censorship, with dependence on advertisement adding to the media’s burden.
“If you look at the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index, we have fallen from a position of no 18, shortly after the handover, to number 73,” she said.
Hong Kong’s government and Beijing were making it impossible for young activists such as Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to participate in the political process, Chan said.
Meanwhile, a group of US politicians led by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith, the chair and co-chair respectively of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), nominated Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and the entire pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Several other senators and congressmen have also signed the letter to this effect addressed to the Nobel Prize Committee.