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A Totalitarian Dictatorship is the Natural Enemy of a Free Society

  • Date:2007-07-01

—Response to Margaret Thatcher's thoughts on Hong Kong's “one country, two systems” model

July 1, 2007

Michael Y. L. You

Vice Chairman, Mainland Affairs Council

During a special British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) program for the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher said she has always believed the “one country, two systems” formula is inappropriate and that she is doubtful about its application to Hong Kong. In fact, as early as in 1984, when China and the U.K. were negotiating the handover of Hong Kong, Ms. Thatcher asserted that a despotic totalitarian regime could not support a free and open society. In the future, the people of Hong Kong should worry that “one country” is real, and the “two systems” is phony.

As one of the administrators responsible for Taiwan's China policy and a long-term observer of developments in this region, I fully agree with Ms. Thatcher's comments regarding Hong Kong. In fact, just a few days ago, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), fiercely expressed that “Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is granted by the central government; and Hong Kong has as much autonomy as the central government allows. There is no such thing as ‘residual power’.” Such outrageous remarks by Wu Bangguo clearly show that beneath the surface of its economic achievements, Hong Kong is essentially governed by a totalitarian regime. Over the past ten years, China long ago violated its pledge of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy.” China's thinking and concrete measures on this matter attest to the validity of concerns shared by myself and Ms. Thatcher.

I therefore sincerely appeal to the people of Taiwan and the international community to pay close attention to the following matters:

First, China has used its power to interpret Hong Kong's Basic Law to create the semblance of “governing according to law,” while at the same time impairing Hong Kong's judicial independence. According to Article 82 of the Basic Law, the power of final adjudication in Hong Kong shall be vested in Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal. In January 1999, Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal ruled that children born in China would be entitled the right of abode in Hong Kong so long as either parent was a permanent resident of Hong Kong. However, China overruled this decision through the NPC Standing Committee's power of interpretation of the Basic Law, as vested by Article 158 of the Basic Law. This move has seriously undermined judicial independence in Hong Kong.

Second, China has used its power of interpretation to make the NPC’s interpretation have an overriding status above the Basic Law, thus denying Hong Kong’s political autonomy. According to various public opinion surveys in Hong Kong, over 60 percent of Hong Kong residents have long hoped that the direct elections of the Chief Executive and all the members of the Legislative Council can be implemented as soon as possible. Among those in the age group of 18 to 29 years, representing the future pillars of society, 80 percent of the Hong Kong people hope the direct elections will be implemented by 2012. However, through the NPC Standing Committee's active use of its power to interpret Hong Kong's Basic Law, China has peremptorily overruled the possibility of implementing the direct elections in the near term. The power of legal interpretation, therefore, has turned China's pledge of “high degree of autonomy” into a “high degree of Chinese political control.”

Third, Beijing has employed united front tactics to drive a wedge into the Hong Kong media with a view to suffocating freedom of the press in Hong Kong. Although China has not outwardly implemented a media censorship system in Hong Kong, it has used its abundant resources to induce or pressure the media in order to exert control over the content of media reporting. Early this year, the Hong Kong Journalists Association conducted a public opinion survey on Hong Kong's news industry. The survey results indicated that 58.5 percent of the respondents believed news self-censorship has become more serious since the 1997 handover. And the situation has become especially apparent when the media handles negative news about China. This is a major warning signal.

Fourthly and Finally, Beijing's steady tightening of political control is causing Hong Kong to forfeit its free economic environment. In particular, China-financed enterprises with political backing from Beijing have been unwilling to disclose their true operating condition, increasing economic risks and harming the business and investment environment in Hong Kong. Chinese enterprises already account for nearly 50.3 percent of the total market value and 64.2 percent of the total trading volume on the Hong Kong stock market. However, Chinese companies publicly listed in Hong Kong have been irregularly involved in incidents of reporting false information on stock market listing, illegal loans and fraud. As such, they have become a potential time bomb that is affecting Hong Kong's economic development.

At present, the international community can still earn economic profits from Hong Kong. But it must also face up to the fact that behind Hong Kong's “approximately good” economic situation, China is strengthening its “one country” dominance over Hong Kong, while controlling and strangling Hong Kong's proper democratic future. The international community should send China the right signals to prevent it from continuing, or even expanding, its efforts to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy and basic human rights. This is the only way to prevent irreversible changes to Hong Kong's overall environment, thus ensuring the interests and shared values of Hong Kong and the international community.