Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Masters Do Not Need to Pull the Strings

(Emily Lau shares her view on the events after the handover with us.)

Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule for a little more than a month and many people are breathing a sigh of relief because there have been no drastic changes.

British Foreign Minister Derek Fatchett said the first 30 days of the SAR have given the British government a great deal of reassurance. This is because people can hold demonstrations against the SAR and Chinese governments.

While there were no arrests of politicians and no disturbances, it is naive to say it is business as usual.

Actions taken by the three branches of the SAR Government have damaged public confidence in the rule of law and shows the Government has little respect for democracy and human rights.

On July 8, the Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, announced proposals for electing the first SAR Legislative Council in 1998. Only 20 of the 60 seats would be elected by one person, one vote.

The remaining 40 would be selected by limited franchise consisting of business and professional people. Pro-communist groups enter the ranks of the power elites.

The archaic systems of functional constituencies and election committees were invented by the colonial government in the 1980s and were enshrined in the Basic Law.

When Mr Farchett shamelessly said "it is possible to have open and fair elections" in 1998, it shows the Labour Government finds such repugnant election methods acceptable.

In the past few weeks, the provisional legislature rushed through controversial legislation to effectively take away the right of abode of children of Hong Kong residents who were born in China, although this right is stipulated in the Basic Law.

The provisional legislature also moved with lightning speed to approve a bill to suspend four laws passed by the Legislative Council in the dying days of colonial rule. These laws relate to workers' rights and extending the Bill of Rights to the private sector.

The SAR Government's high-handed way of handling these issues showed it has little respect or proper legislative process and treats the provisional legislature as a rubber stamp.

The provisional legislature also proved itself to be incapable of checking the excesses of the executive.

The integrity of the judiciary came under scrutiny on July 29 when the Court of Appeal ruled that the provisional legislature was valid.

In addition, the court found that the SAR judiciary has no jurisdiction to review whether decisions of the National People's Congress are compatible with the Basic Law. It further ruled that Chinese authorities have complete power over the SAR. The court's attempt to undermine the SAR judiciary has caused alarm and dismay. By declaring the judiciary's inability to challenge NPC decisions, the court is effectively saying that the NPC can do whatever it wants.

If that is the case, why was the Basic Law promulgated at all? If whatever the Chinese leaders want will prevail, then where does that leave the rule of law?

Hong Kong people are worried that pressure would be brought to bear on the courts and the independence of the judiciary would be compromised. However, they do not expect the judges to act so swiftly to undermine the autonomy of the SAR by literally issuing a blank cheque to the central government to interfere in whatever way it wants.

Some people say there has not been any interference from Beijing in the past month. Can they not see that this is not necessary because the people appear to know exactly what is expected of them by their masters in the north?

Emily Lau

1997 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor