China’s legislature has staunchly maintained “constitutional order” in Hong Kong, its outgoing leader said on Sunday, joining other top officials in emphasising Beijing’s hold over the city.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee “has resolutely defended the constitutional order (in Hong Kong and Macau) that has been established by the constitution and the Basic Law,” Zhang Dejiang, the NPCSC’s chairman, similar to the speaker of the parliament in other countries, said in his final work report.
Zhang, who was also the leader of the Communist Party’s Hong Kong and Macau working group for about five years, went on to say that the NPCSC has followed the constitution and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to issue a decision on universal suffrage in the city.
The standing committee has spelt out the “direction” and “basic arrangements” for the city to develop democracy gradually, he said.
Zhang was referring to the NPCSC’s decision for a tougher-than-expected framework for Hong Kong’s chief executive election, which pushed public anger to breaking point and sparked the Occupy Central protests that paralysed the city for 79 days.
During his time as chairman of the NPCSC and the Hong Kong working group, Zhang sought to foster the city’s integration with the mainland and curb pro-independence advocacy in the city.
Supporters such as Michael Tien Puk-sun, one of Hong Kong’s 36 deputies to the NPC, have said Zhang has acted decisively to the benefit of the city.
“Many Hongkongers may dislike him. Yet, a dovish leader may only prolong the problem and further harm the city,” Tien said.
He agreed that Zhang has adopted a “hawkish” style but added Zhang had struck a balance by not pushing for national security laws in Hong Kong.
In 2003, the government was forced to scrap a plan to enact the national security law after half a million people took to the streets. Critics have said that the law would be a threat to civil liberties.
Zhang delivered his report after the NPC gave near-unanimous approval to sweeping changes to the constitution, formally removing term limits to enable Xi Jinping to stay on as the president beyond 2023. The approval has sparked concerns from the city’s pro-democracy camp that Xi’s uncompromising stance will mean even greater emphasis on “one country” rather than the “two systems” in the principle that allows the city a high degree of autonomy.
Zhang also said that the NPCSC’s interpretation of the Basic Law’s Article 104 has “firmly curbed and resisted” pro-independence voices, while defending the authority of the constitution and the Basic Law.
He was referring to standing committee’s decision in November 2016 that effectively disqualified two newly elected members of Hong Kong’s legislature over improper oaths of office. The pair inserted pro-independence slogans and insults against the country into their oaths.
Zhang also mentioned the NPCSC’s approval to allow national laws to be enforced in part of Hong Kong’s cross-border express rail terminus. He also brought up the standing committee’s decision to impose a national anthem law on Hong Kong.
It remains unclear who will succeed Zhang in becoming head of the Hong Kong and Macau working group though some reports have suggested Li Zhanshu, a member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee.
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Beijing has been increasingly emphasising the importance for Hong Kong to understand the country’s constitution.
Earlier this month, Premier Li Keqiang said that the authority of the constitution and the Basic Law have been further realised in the city, as he vowed full support for its integration into developments on the mainland.
Maggie Chan Man-ki, another Hong Kong deputy, said Zhang’s speech underscored the constitutional order in Hong Kong.
“The constitution holds supreme legal power. Hong Kong is not exempted from this,” she said.