Joshua Wong, in his article in The Australian of 2 September, made a valid point when he asked rhetorically “who were the ones who did not give young people a stake in society ?”
The fact is that, over the past two decades, since China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, the laissez-faire policy of the former colonial government has been carried to extremes. The rich have prospered whilst the bulk of the people suffered. Basic social needs have been neglected, essential service-providers such as nurses and teachers under-valued and ill-paid, hospitals under-staffed. Real estate developers have been favoured above all others, and the young find it difficult to rent even the most sub-standard accommodation. The gap between the rich and the poor is ever-widening, and the young see little prospect of reaching their full potential. For them, the future looks bleak. Much of the fault lies with the successive administrations since the Handover.
But are the means employed by Joshua Wong and his confederates the solution to Hong Kong’s problems ?
He threatens “many more months of tears and suffering”. To promote freedom, democracy and liberal values in Hong Kong, his confederates have immobilized transport hubs – including the international airport – broken into and desecrated the Legislative Council chamber, vandalized the façade of the Mainland liaison office, trashed mass transit railway stations, and erected street barriers. They come out in hard-hats, goggles and gas-masks, wielding batons, shields and lasers, attacking the police with fire-bombs, bricks and batons, violently resisting arrest. They have singled out the families of police officers for vilification.
They claim the protection of the law but with premeditation violently break the law. They have, to assert their right to freedom, trampled on the freedoms of millions of others – both local and from overseas – and brought untold damage to the Hong Kong community.
Wong says that “the only way for stability to return is for Beijing to grant us free and fair election in the city – one of the five demands made by the anti-extradition movement”.
Can he be totally ignorant of the arrangement made by China and Britain over the future of Hong Kong in 1984, as now concretised in the Basic Law, under the policy of “One Country Two Systems”? Joshua Wong and his confederates demand that the Chief Executive should resign and a new Chief Executive be elected by popular vote. Is he not aware that enshrined in the Basic Law is the provision that there should be a “broadly representative nominating committee” which selects the eventual person for appointment? Has he not read the decision of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress of 31 August 2014 which envisaged the committee nominating “two or three” candidates for appointment, those candidates then being put to the vote “through universal suffrage”? Is he not aware that the “democrats” themselves have rejected that model in 2016 ?
The National Peoples’ Congress (NPC) alone has power to amend the Basic Law: Article 159.
What Wong and his confederates demand is a constitutional impossibility, unless the NPC amends the Basic Law. Do they really believe that by bringing “tears and suffering” to the Hong Kong community, the NPC would bend to their demands and amend the Basic Law?
There is one overwhelming reality that Wong ignores. The common law system underpinning Hong Kong’s “core values” expires in 27 years’ time. The One Country Two Systems formula was designed to last for 50 years and no more. Hence Article 5 of the Basic Law. There is no mechanism for the system to continue beyond 30 June 2047, except for Article 159 which, as mentioned earlier, vests the power of amendment in the NPC.
All the calls for freedom and liberal democratic values have no meaning if the common law crumbles.
As things stand today, Hong Kong as a special administrative region has by far the greatest freedoms throughout China. If Wong and his confederates truly value their professed aims, their focus would be on demonstrating to Beijing and the rest of the world that the One Country Two Systems formula works, and to promote an atmosphere in which Beijing feels comfortable with the system – and when the time comes, to extend the Basic Law for another 50 years, even 100 years. Then liberal democratic values might endure.
Crunch time is not 27 years away. It is just round the corner. For Hong Kong to continue as one of the world’s greatest financial centres, planning for the future must look 20–30 years ahead. So the hard questions will soon be put: is the common law system to continue beyond June 2047 ? Is it fit for purpose ? This is where the focus should lie, for Joshua Wong and his young confederates. Their “fight” should be for the long continuation of the “One Country Two Systems” policy. Up to now, they have demonstrated for all the world to see that the policy is very fragile, and if the present turmoil continues, it would surely fracture beyond any hope of recall.
Henry Litton is a former judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.