Message from the Chairman
Seeds of further political reform
It is easy to think of Mr. C.H.Tung and his Government as a regime bent on curtailing freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong. The Government's decision to overturn a Court of Final Appeal (CFA) ruling through re-interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress(NPC) and its stubborn refusal to commit to further democratic development has helped to reinforce such negative perception.
Indeed, Mr. Michael Suen, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs who appeared as a guest speaker at the HKDF luncheon on 11 June 1999 (see Mr. Suen's speech The Need for Constitutional Reform) started his speech by defending his remarks on the "... lack of maturity of political parties". But let's talk about the controversy surrounding the CFA ruling first.
"One Country, Two Systems?
The CFA ruling and the Government's decision to seek "re-interpretation by the NPC" instead of "Amending the Basic Law" was one of the most difficult subjects the HKDF had examined. At an early stage in the discussion, a member who has a strong legal background wrote to the HKDF General Committee and pointed out that "the CFA could have and should have consulted the NPC before making its ruling." Other members quickly pointed out that "re-interpretation has significantly weakened the "Separation of Power" principle and has moved Hong Kong further towards the "One Country, One System" path.
To help us solve this puzzle, we took Mr. Ronny Tong, S.C., Chairman of the Bar Association (HKDF's luncheon speaker on 7 July 1999) to task by confronting him with the arguments of Mr. Alan Hoo, S.C., a supporter of the Government's decision. (Mr. Hoo argued (SCMP 26 June 1999) that the right of abode issue ruled by the CFA is one of the "basic policies" of China. It is treaty bound(Joint Declaration of 1984) and the CFA's decision has effectively "...changed China's basic policies which have been agreed between China and Britain".)
Worried sick about Hong Kong
Mr. Ronny Tong, one of the best known figures opposing the Government decision was slightly taken aback by our confrontation. But he quickly settled down and delivered his position that in seeking re-interpretation, the Government is perceived to "...encourages not the rule by the letter of the Law but rule by meanings not immediately apparent from the language of the Law. (See Ronny Tong's speech The The Rule of Law in the First Two Years of The SAR.) This view was already well known. The question and answer period and his recollection of a conversation with C.H.Tung revealed more of Mr. Ronny Tong's stance and what he is made of.
Mr. Ronny Tong was asked: if he had a time machine and could turn back events, what would his wishes be? Mr. Tong said he wished that the Government, as a litigant in the right of abode ruling, had asked the CFA to seek interpretation from the NPC before it had lost the case. But having lost the CFA case, he felt that Government should have mobilised the local NPC delegates and the Legislative Council and sought to amend the Basic Law.
Mr. Ronny Tong, who was worried sick about the rule of law in Hong Kong, went on to quote an exchange between himself and Mr. C.H.Tung, who seemed to be worried sick about the consequence of the CFA ruling on Hong Kong's ability to control immigration.
"Why are you opposing the Government's decision", asked Mr. C.H.Tung. "Why are you worried sick about uncontrolled immigration to Hong Kong," asked Mr. Ronny Tong.
Mr. Tong said that he went on to tell the C.E.O. that he should also be "worried sick" about the rule of law in Hong Kong.
Seeds of further political reform
Mr. Ronny Tong's cautious optimism was reassuring. The HKDF has always knew that the Basic Law is not at all designed as a constitution. It was worded too loosely (probably deliberately) to be interpreted precisely. It does not "insulate" our system from that of China's. So it was not surprising that the "Separation of Power" principle - a principle that has been taken for granted in Hong Kong but not understood in China, clashed with "Rule by Administrative Order" principle practiced in China for thousands of years.
The HKDF is somewhat relieved that, unlike the local left wing 'hawks', the Central Government has shown restraint in resolving the first constitutional crises faced by Hong Kong. However, the HKDF has always taken the position that, for Hong Kong to move forward as a society, further political reform is required.
Our prayers were partially answered by Mr. Michael Suen who came and reminded us about Article 68 of the Basic Law, which provides for the ultimate aim of "... the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage."?And that the trigger point will be 2007 when the Basic Law stop providing a "blueprint". In eight years, the Hong Kong community will have to decide on how we would make this transition a fully directly elected legislature. Mr. Suen went on to remind us that to bring forward the date is not practical.
Mr. Suen also said that he was disappointed with some members of the business community, who felt willing and ready to threat on a complete withdrawal of their business interests from Hong Kong when amongst Government officials in private, but refused to debate the issues in public. Mr. Suen said that the business community may have been too well sheltered in the past and perhaps they should expect less "protection" in the future.
The HKDF was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Suen's openness, particularly when he said he does not rule out the need to amend the Basic Law. While stopping short of a promising a public consultation on Hong Kong's constitutional development, the third highest ranking official from the Hong Kong SAR Government has urged a public debate on Hong Kong's future political development.
Mr. Suen has highlighted some of the issues. It is now up to the community to come up with a solution and a consensus.