Anyone who has witnessed the relentless, destructive political bickering in Hong Kong over recent years will have no difficulty figuring out why Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, found the need to re-emphasize the importance of Hong Kong people realizing that the nation’s Constitution is the cornerstone and guarantee of the “one country, two systems” principle when he participated in an online seminar for Constitution Day last month.
Only by thoroughly understanding the relationship between the Constitution and “one country, two systems” can the long-term successful practice of this principle be ensured under the principle of “governance according to law” underpinned by the Constitution.
In emphasizing the importance of governing the country according to the Constitution, President Xi Jinping repeatedly mentioned that the Constitution is the fundamental legal principle of the country, which is also the general guiding principle regarding the proper administration of State affairs and safeguard of national security. It is the basis for the governance of the country, as well as for the Party’s long-term leadership in the country. President Xi has also stated that the full and faithful implementation of the Constitution is the prime mission and foundational work in constructing a socialist country ruled by law. In light of the important role of the Constitution in administering State affairs and political matters, to effectively practice “governing the country in accordance with the law”, the country should in the first place insist on governing the country according to the Constitution.
President Xi noted that the Constitution, as the “fundamental law”, is the source of all the systems and legal rules of the country and enjoys the highest legal status, authority and effect. Article 31 of the Constitution sets up the constitutional order of the HKSAR, establishing the direction of “one country, two systems” and setting out the basic principles in formulating the Basic Law. The Preamble of the Basic Law states: “In accordance with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the National People’s Congress hereby enacts the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, prescribing the systems to be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in order to ensure the implementation of the basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong.” It is obvious that the Constitution is the foundation of the Basic Law, being the “parent legislation” while the Basic Law is the “child legislation”. Without the Constitution, both the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” policy would be sourceless.
While the Constitution and the Basic Law jointly formed the constitutional foundation of the HKSAR, the Constitution should be the basis for the implementation of the Basic Law, which ensures the long-term successful practice of “one country, two systems” and safeguards Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. As a general guiding principle, it means that the concept of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” must correspond with the constitutional principles, and the “high degree of autonomy” shall not exceed constitutional limits.
President Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of reinforcing the authority of the Constitution and the Basic Law. This is because “to govern Hong Kong in accordance with the law” is essentially to govern Hong Kong in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law. In his address at the Celebrations of the 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Return to the Motherland and the Inaugural Ceremony of the Fifth Term HKSAR Government held on July 1, 2017, President Xi pointed out that Hong Kong must always act in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law. It should improve the institutions and mechanisms for implementing the Basic Law and raise public awareness of the Constitution and the Basic Law, particularly among civil servants and young people. He emphasized that these are necessary in realizing “one country, two systems”, and are the right things to do in fully implementing the governance of Hong Kong in accordance with the law and the safeguard of Hong Kong’s rule of law.
The Preamble of the Constitution states: “The people of all nationalities, all State organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and institutions in the country must take the Constitution as the basic standard of conduct, and they have the duty to uphold the dignity of the Constitution and ensure its implementation.” As the HKSAR is part of China, the HKSAR government, a local government directly under the Central People’s Government, should treat the Constitution and the Basic Law as the basic guiding principles governing its actions, or act in strict accordance with the powers and procedures established by the Constitution and the Basic Law. As Luo stated in his speech, since Hong Kong’s handover, the NPC and the NPCSC have resolved many problems in Hong Kong, through decisions and interpretations of the Basic Law, that the HKSAR cannot solve on its own, effectively safeguarding and supporting the HKSAR government’s administration according to law. These moves by the NPC and the NPCSC embodied the organic combination of the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR and the latter’s high degree of autonomy according to the Constitution and the Basic Law.
As President Xi stated, the life of a constitution is in its implementation, and the authority of a constitution is also in its implementation. As stated in the Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century, through the promulgation and implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, improving the electoral system of the HKSAR, supporting the HKSAR in improving the oath-taking mechanisms of civil servants, setting up the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR and setting up the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of HKSAR, the central government has demonstrated its determination to improve the implementation systems of the Constitution and the Basic Law. While the National Security Law for Hong Kong has effectively halted chaos and restored order in Hong Kong, the improvement of the electoral system of the HKSAR will ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong”; both measures have provided Hong Kong with the necessary mechanisms to facilitate the city moving “from chaos to governance”.
Strengthening the publicity and education on the Constitution, particularly for young people, is an important task for the implementation of the Constitution and “governing Hong Kong according to the law”. Since Hong Kong restored social order, the HKSAR government has kick-started numerous promotional and educational works on the Constitution, including multiple National Constitution Day activities. In particular, the Department of Justice has implemented Vision 2030 for Rule of Law (Vision 2030), which promotes the proper understanding and recognition of the rule of law. For example, “Empowerment” is a program under Vision 2030 where support is provided to schools in carrying out education on the rule of law to enhance law-abiding awareness among students; while the Reinforcing the Rule of Law training course focuses on the teachers, in which teachers are trained on the basic rule of law principles, and the relevant knowledge regarding the Constitution, the Basic Law and national security. Only through widely implementing promotional and educational activities on the Constitution and the Basic Law can the concept of “governing Hong Kong in accordance with the law” enjoy broader public recognition, which will ensure the long-term implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle.
The author is vice-president of the Hong Kong Hua Jing Society and vice-president of the Hong Kong and Mainland Legal Professional Association.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.