HK's autonomy not a licence to challenge Beijing: Chinese official

Mr Zhang Dejiang, China's No. 3 official who oversees Hong Kong affairs.
Mr Zhang Dejiang, China's No. 3 official who oversees Hong Kong affairs. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • A top Chinese official said yesterday that Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy must not be taken as a licence to confront Beijing and urged the territory's government to implement contentious new national security laws.

The comments by Mr Zhang Dejiang, China's No. 3 official who oversees Hong Kong affairs, highlight growing concerns at Beijing's top leadership about a fledgling independence or secessionist movement in Hong Kong.

They come as the city is set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover on July 1, with Chinese President Xi Jinping widely expected to visit the city for the first time since he took office.

In some of his strongest comments yet, Mr Zhang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, warned in a speech that Hong Kong's autonomy should not be used as a licence to challenge the central government's authority.

"Under 'One Country, Two Systems', the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong is that of delegation of power, not power sharing," Mr Zhang said yesterday.

"Under no condition should the high degree of autonomy be used as a guise to confront the central government's authority," he said during an official forum to commemorate the 20th anniversary of implementing Hong Kong's mini Constitution, or the Basic Law.

He also said Hong Kong's judges and government officials should take the lead to understand the Basic Law.

DELEGATION, NOT POWER SHARING

Under 'One Country, Two Systems', the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong is that of delegation of power, not power sharing.

MR ZHANG DEJIANG, China's No. 3 official who oversees Hong Kong affairs.

The former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the "one China, two systems" agreement that ensured its freedoms and wide-ranging autonomy, including a separate legal system.

After the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, where hundreds of thousands occupied the streets for months and demanded full democracy, a nascent independence movement emerged, though it lost momentum after China stepped in last year to effectively disqualify two of the movement's young leaders elected into legislature.

Apart from the independence movement, another group of activists headed by student protest leader Joshua Wong called for self-determination rights for the former colony.

Mr Zhang slammed both movements yesterday.

"In practice, they attempt to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity, and to secede Hong Kong from the country," he said.

"We cannot ignore these actions. The (Hong Kong government) should implement its constitutional responsibility under the Basic Law to enact laws over national security, and resolutely halt any behaviour and action that endanger national unity."

Under Hong Kong's Basic Law, the government is expected to toughen up the territory's existing national security laws, but it has held off on doing so since its last attempt in 2003 triggered the first massive street protests after the handover.

"The speech means Beijing has overall jurisdiction, and whatever privileges Hong Kong people enjoy are granted by Beijing," said political analyst Willy Lam.

"The hardline language is laying the groundwork for July 1 when Xi Jinping is expected to visit the city," he told Bloomberg.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'HK's autonomy not a licence to challenge Beijing: Chinese official'. Print Edition | Subscribe