HK: Dueling Definitions of Democracy

chris-patten-uk-hk

Rhetoric aside, China has always retained the final say on how the city’s leaders would be chosen. That power was enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, by giving Beijing the right to final interpretations, including on elections.

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Martin Lee, a leading democratic activist and former legislator who sat on the law’s drafting committee.

“There was no doubt in our minds that Beijing was quite prepared to give us democracy or universal suffrage as everybody would understand it to be.”

— Martin Lee

When China and the U.K. began negotiating the transfer of Hong Kong in the early 1980s, both sides spoke optimistically about elections. Promises for future balloting were embedded in documents signed at the time to guide Hong Kong after its return to Chinese control in 1997.

HT-thatcher-in-china

For WSJ – Ned Levin, Charles Hutzler and Jenny Gross: In recent months, arguments over the meaning of those promises have helped to propel increasingly confrontational protests over how the city will choose its next leader in 2017. Beijing says that it has honored its commitment to provide universal suffrage; pro-democracy activists say that China has trampled those promises by insisting that candidates be approved by a committee whose members are largely pro-business and pro-Beijing.

“No one told Hong Kongers when they were assured of universal suffrage that it would not mean being able to choose for whom they could vote.”

Rhetoric aside, China has always retained the final say on how the city’s leaders would be chosen. That power was enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, by giving Beijing the right to final interpretations, including on elections.

“They can interpret white as black, yellow, green or red. And tomorrow, they can interpret back to white,” said Martin Lee, a leading democratic activist and former legislator who sat on the law’s drafting committee. He resigned after China’s bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

The agreement to return Hong Kong to China was signed by U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang in 1984. During a tense 1982 trip to China, Mrs. Thatcher tripped and stumbled on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

It proved to be an omen for Mrs. Thatcher, who had started out as an optimist about the Hong Kong negotiations but soon realized that China had the upper hand. By 1983, after several rounds of increasingly testy talks, she abandoned her hopes of “turning Hong Kong into a self-governing territory,” according to her memoirs, and accepted China’s claim of sovereignty.

“We did the best we could with quite a weak hand because we were dealing with a lease that ran out in 1997,” said Anthony Galsworthy, a former British ambassador to China. While China had ceded Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula to Britain in perpetuity, the U.K. held the lion’s share of Hong Kong’s territory under a 99-year lease.

Still, Mrs. Thatcher, who died last year, remained hopeful. The 1984 agreement and subsequent pacts guaranteed that Hong Kong wouldn’t be quickly absorbed into China, stipulating that it would have “a high degree of autonomy” and that top officials would come from Hong Kong….(read more)

WSJ – Ned Levin, Charles Hutzler and Jenny Gross. Write to Ned Levin at ned.levin@wsj.com, Charles Hutzler at charles.hutzler@wsj.com and Jenny Gross at jenny.gross@wsj.com


4 Comments on “HK: Dueling Definitions of Democracy”

  1. […] The Butcher Rhetoric aside, China has always retained the final say on how the city’s leaders would be […]

  2. […] HK: Dueling Definitions of Democracy (punditfromanotherplanet.com) […]

  3. […] HK: Dueling Definitions of Democracy (punditfromanotherplanet.com) […]

  4. […] HK: Dueling Definitions of Democracy (punditfromanotherplanet.com) […]


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