What more does China want from Hong Kong 20 years on from handover?

by Stuart Lau, Jun Mai / 30 May, 2017/ SCMP

When Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor takes the oath as Hong Kong’s next chief executive presumably before President Xi Jinping on July 1, the city she governs will face a sovereign state that has signalled it wants a firmer say in how it is run.

That was the conclusion many came to when they heard Zhang Dejiang, the third highest-ranking state leader and head of the Communist Party’s coordination group on Hong Kong affairs, giving a tough prescription last week for the way forward. It was immediately read as Beijing’s sternest directive to Hong Kong, telling its political leaders, opposition camp and residents at large what more the central government could, and should, do in order to keep a tighter rein on the city’s affairs.

Zhang’s case for doing so looks like this. As Hongkongers have been deemed to be growing increasingly localist and opposed to Beijing’s rule, as shown during the pro-democracy Occupy campaign in 2014, it is time for Beijing to make clear that China’s sovereignty over the city is “comprehensive”.

More significantly, the “high degree of autonomy” enjoyed by the city came as a result of power delegation from Beijing, not power sharing.

The solution to minimising such wayward thinking in the geographically peripheral but financially vital city, he seems to suggest, is to strengthen the central government’s sovereign powers with reference to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

“In the face of all kinds of challenges and problems,” he said during a 50-minute speech at the Soviet-style Great Hall of the People on Saturday, “there have been forces, internal and external, that spare no effort in smearing the central and the special administrative region (SAR) governments, in smearing ‘one country two systems’ and the Basic Law.”

The words sound ominous but few in Hong Kong know exactly what will follow. Asked about Zhang’s call for Hong Kong to fulfil the constitutional obligation of protecting national security – which some fear would see an accelerated move to relaunch the highly contentious Article 23 legislation – Lam’s chief executive-elect office gave a cautious reply. She repeated what is in her election manifesto – that the issue had been controversial in the past, while reiterating it was a constitutional duty to enact the legislation.

Beijing loyalists have tried to suggest that it was not an entirely groundbreaking manifesto.

“I do not think there is any new element to support the view that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong,” said Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Read more…

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