HK starts new page in a better political ecosystem

Chief executive election candidate Mr John Lee Ka-chiu has a vision for Hong Kong to be an open and free society and a first-rate international city well connected to the world and enjoying economic prosperity. But this, he surmises, must be grounded on peace and order, the rule of law, and above all, national security. Legislator Mr Tik Chi-yuen was disappointed, however, because he believes that with the National Security Law for Hong Kong in place, law and order have been restored, and it is the right time to restart the political reform process.

Mr Lee’s election platform, often referred to as his manifesto, shows that he will put political reform aside for the moment. Instead, he will focus on things that matter to people’s livelihoods. At the same time, he will work on Article 23 legislation, which states that “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of State secrets, to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies.”

Some people worry whether the National Security Law, introduced in 2020, and the coming legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law will make Hong Kong into “just another mainland city”. In one aspect, Hong Kong will indeed be like another mainland city: Hong Kong will no longer allow any room for foreign political organizations or their proxies to conduct subversive activities covertly as it did before. In some people’s eyes, this is suppression of dissent. But the concept of dissent that applies in a Western-style democracy, with different political parties representing different interests vying for power, does not apply in a political system that requires the government to serve the public interest. In a multiparty system, it is of course unfair for the ruling party to oppress opposition parties. In a single-party system, which allows open competition for the leadership based on merit and track record and which has proved successful in achieving identified national goals and in serving the national interest, challenging the political system is tantamount to sabotaging a public infrastructure. The nature is not political dissent. It is a criminal act that goes against the public interest.

Mr John Lee will see to it that Hong Kong will be a safe city like other mainland cities. But Hong Kong will still enjoy many special privileges as guaranteed under the Basic Law

Today, the West feels threatened by China’s rise because China’s political system is too successful. When the “one country, two systems” was proposed, it was clearly stated that “well water must not intrude into river water”, meaning that Hong Kong people must respect the political system on the mainland. Because the political system is a public infrastructure vital to China’s national interest, when the Basic Law was written, specific safeguards were introduced and clearly spelled out so that China’s political system will not be challenged. The Nominating Committee is that safeguard. It ensures that all candidates that stand for election for the chief executive must be vetted by the Nominating Committee. But some people chose to bypass it, and asked for “civic nomination” and nominations by political parties. And they not only asked for such things, but actually engaged in physical occupation of important thoroughfares and resorted to violence. Behind all this, moreover, is the support and encouragement of Western powers, which for obvious reasons would like to see the election of a chief executive and a Legislative Council that serve Western interests.

Mr John Lee will see to it that Hong Kong will be a safe city like other mainland cities. But Hong Kong will still enjoy many special privileges as guaranteed under the Basic Law. There are signals that Hong Kong will still enjoy these special privileges even after 2047. Hong Kong will continue to flourish as an international city. As Mr John Lee explains, our common law system will continue; our freedoms will continue — press freedom, freedom of association, religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc. Dissent in the sense of criticizing government policies will never be a criminal act; but trying to undermine China’s political system is. Hong Kong will need to wait for an opportune time to restart the political reform process. That time will come, but it will have to follow the rules spelled out in the Basic Law, which was passed in 1990 and went into effect on July 1, 1997.

The reason why Mr Lee takes national security as a priority is because the West has been taking every opportunity to undermine China’s success. At this critical moment, ensuring national security is more important than ever. The US Council on Foreign Relations portrayed China as “revoking” its promise to give Hong Kong “considerable political economy for 50 years”, and the UK has accused Beijing of “reneging” on the Sino-British Joint Declaration. But they certainly know that under the Basic Law, candidates for the chief executive need to be first nominated by the Nominating Committee. As an official sanctioned by the West for his role in bringing peace and order back to Hong Kong, Mr Lee knows that the priority today is not political reform, but peace and order in society, and restoring Hong Kong’s hard-won prosperity and economic success.

The author is director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.