2ND LD: China to interpret H.K. constitution on democracy reform

HONG KONG, March 26 Kyodo


China will give its interpretations of Hong Kong’s post-handover constitution on political development next month in a bid to end the city’s escalating row over democratization, the official Xinhua News Agency said Friday.

But the move has sparked public fears of Beijing’s tightening control over Hong Kong and denying the former British colony a faster pace toward full democracy.

”The interpretation is initiated by Beijing, not Hong Kong. It is not a good sign,” said Anthony Cheung, a political professor with the City University of Hong Kong.

”This is damaging the principle of ‘one country, two systems.’ It disappoints the Hong Kong people very much,” pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said, referring to the Chinese policy under which Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, will deliberate a draft of interpretations of two annexes of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, involving the city’s political development after 2007, at its April 2-6 meeting, Xinhua reported.

”In interpreting relevant clauses of the annexes of the Basic Law, the NPC Standing Committee aims to put an end to confusion and differences, and further push forward comprehensive implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the Basic Law,” the news agency said in a separate commentary.

”It is an imperative move for administering Hong Kong in accordance with the law,” the commentary said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp is pushing for direct elections of the territory’s chief executive in 2007 and the whole legislature in 2008. The democrats argue that such democratic arrangements are possible under the provisions of the Basic Law.

Tens of thousands of people in the former British colony have taken to the streets to support the cause for full democracy as soon as possible.

However, Beijing and conservative forces see the law differently and insist that Hong Kong’s electoral reform must proceed gradually and orderly. They accuse some lawmakers of the pro-democracy camp of being ”unpatriotic” and thus unfit to rule.

”We have yet to complete the public consultation (on electoral reform) in Hong Kong. An interpretation of the Basic Law shows that Beijing discards Hong Kong’s public opinions,” lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan told Kyodo News.

Lee was one of the three pro-democracy lawmakers who testified before a U.S. congressional hearing on Hong Kong’s democratization earlier this month, prompting condemnation from Beijing and its supporters.

The Hong Kong Bar Association also said it sees no necessity for an interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPC. Margaret Ng, the lawmaker representing the legal profession, described the Chinese move as ”disturbing” and argued that the annexes of the Basic Law are clear and need no explanation from Beijing.

Defending Beijing’s move, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told reporters that it is a ”good step” to be taken and is done in the interest of Hong Kong.

”By doing this, they actually will able to help us move forward in our discussion in the community…to avoid the endless wrangling and the legal wrangling in courts and in the community as a whole,” Tung said.

The Beijing-appointed Hong Kong leader noted that the Chinese central authorities have the responsibility and the right to interpret Hong Kong’s post-handover constitution and to oversee the territory’s political development.

A Hong Kong government task force in charge of political reform will meet with NPC officials next Tuesday to represent the public opinions collected in Hong Kong.

Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, who leads the task force, said Hong Kong cannot make decisions on its own concerning constitutional development.

Beijing has stressed its sovereign power over Hong Kong and that it has the final say on the territory’s democracy reform.

China’s top legislature last gave an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law in June 1999, overturning a ruling made by the territory’s final court and limiting the right of abode for mainland Chinese.

The decision drew strong criticism from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy and rights activists as well as legal experts, who claimed that the interpretation could erode the ”one country, two systems” principle and the independence of the city’s judiciary.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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