Stars and Dragons: The EU and China - European Union Committee Contents


306.  Hong Kong's Special Administrative Region (SAR) status gives it an economic as well as a political advantage. Lord Patten of Barnes[115] thought that Hong Kong had "gone pretty well" since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It was one of the freest places in Asia and had been remarkably successful (Q 566). Isabel Hilton agreed that, on the whole, Hong Kong was a success (Q 134).

Hong Kong Constitutional Arrangements

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. Under the Basic Law Hong Kong operates under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle which allows it to have a separate legal, commercial and political system, though ultimate authority lies with the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing. Hong Kong currently operates a three-tier system of administration with 18 district councils; a Legislative Council (LegCo) last elected on 7 September 2008 for a period of four years; and a Chief Executive, presently Donald Tsang, elected on 25 March 2007, for a period of five years. The Basic Law (Articles 45 and 68) states that the "ultimate aim" is universal suffrage for both LegCo and the Chief Executive, though it does not specify any dates by which this must be accomplished. At present direct election is only available for a majority of seats in the district councils and half of the 60 seats in LegCo. The other 30 seats in LegCo are indirectly elected by functional constituencies; and the Chief Executive is also indirectly elected by an 800-member election committee. Changes to the existing system require the support of the Chief Executive and two-thirds of LegCo, and the approval of the NPC.
In December 2007 the Standing Committee of the NPC (SCNPC) in Beijing rejected the possibility of universal suffrage for 2012, when both executive and legislative elections fall. It indicated that direct election for Chief Executive might be possible in 2017, dependent on certain conditions. Direct election might be possible for Legco after the first direct election for Chief Executive had been conducted. Any proposal to change the existing system and move to direct elections would require the ultimate approval of the SCNPC.

307.  Maria Tam[116] explained that a 2007 decision by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on future electoral arrangements in Hong Kong meant that in the 2012 elections the LegCo would retain geographic and functional constituencies. No significant decisions would be taken before 2012 on the introduction of universal suffrage for the 2017 and 2020 elections. Democratic and conservative factions had different views on this: the former wanted an early decision on arrangements for 2017 and 2020 while the latter were content to wait for 2012. The NPC had also decided that the Chief Executive would be chosen by universal suffrage in 2017 although there would be a selection process to determine who could stand. In the eyes of many Chinese, Hong Kong was as free as it had ever been.

308.  According to Stephen Lam[117] there were possibilities for democratic development, even though universal suffrage had been deferred. Jasper Tsang[118] said that his Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong saw economic and social concerns as higher priority than political rights and democratic development. Margaret Ng[119] thought that it was important to maintain relations with the European Parliament; however, how to keep up lobbying on democracy and human rights was a challenge.

309.  Europe Minister Chris Bryant told us that the Government wanted the Hong Kong SAR to move swiftly to a system of universal suffrage as envisaged in its Basic Law. The EU had been very supportive of UK messages on this. The UK was limited in what it could say because of its colonial past; Hong Kong was a "classic instance" where the EU's intervention could be "pretty decisive" (Q 789).

310.  Dr Steven Tsang (Oxford University) agreed that the EU should take an "active benevolent interest" in the SARs of Hong Kong and Macao and should encourage the Chinese government to work with Hong Kong politicians and citizens for a mutually beneficial outcome on democratisation (p 323). Democratic politicians were frustrated by the lack of progress. They wanted dialogue with the Chinese government who should try to understand them as they enjoyed support in Hong Kong. Dialogue posed no threat to the authority of the central government and was permitted by the Basic Law. Five Hong Kong legislators had resigned in order to use by-elections as a "de facto referendum" on faster democratisation. The Chinese government wished to see the Hong Kong SAR flourish but this required Hong Kong people to feel contented, which included having an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights (p 324).

311.  Professor Breslin told us that Hong Kong remained a very important conduit for foreign investment into China; some 80% of Japanese money invested in Hong Kong ended up in the Pearl River Delta (Guangdong province) (Q 203). Stephen Lam told us that the financial situation was stable and there had been no need for bank recapitalisation or rescues. Hong Kong businesses had 100,000 factories in the rest of China with 10 million employees, three times the Hong Kong workforce. Maria Castillo Fernandez[120] confirmed that Hong Kong was a platform for entry into China and important for influence into China. In a reverse process, Beijing pursued Taiwan by means of Hong Kong. EU-Hong Kong trade and commercial links continued to expand and to move towards European standards of regulation. The Macao and Hong Kong SARs had Market Economy Status, which Beijing did not.

312.  Ms Castillo Fernandez said that the EU office in Hong Kong had 13 staff, four from the EU and nine local agents, and reported directly to Brussels in the same way as the EU's Beijing office. This was not adequate for the level of political work that had to be undertaken. 17 EU Member States had diplomatic representation in Hong Kong.

313.  The EU should continue to take an interest in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, including the implementation of its Basic Law and progress towards universal suffrage. Pressure put on China by a unified EU to maintain momentum on these issues can be more productive than by the UK alone because of the UK's colonial history. We welcome the EU's support for the British Government's position on universal suffrage and its efforts to persuade the Chinese government to make faster progress. The EU should encourage the Chinese government and the Hong Kong authorities to work with Hong Kong politicians and citizens for a mutually beneficial outcome within the framework of the Basic Law.

115   Last UK Governor of Hong Kong, 1992-97. Back

116   Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Appendix 4. Back

117   Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, Appendix 4. Back

118   President of the Legislative Council; Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), Appendix 4. Back

119   Civic Party, Hong Kong, Appendix 4. Back

120   Head of the then Commission delegation in Hong Kong and Macao, Appendix 4. Back

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