By Wu Hui-lin 吳惠林
Former Academia Sinica member Hsing Mu-huan (邢慕寰) once praised Hong Kong as “a miracle on a rock.” This rock could be transformed into a diamond or a pearl because the Hong Kong government took a hands-off approach to governance: It created and maintained an environment conducive to free development. Although there was no democracy, the respect for and maintenance of this liberty and the protection of human rights were genuine.
When Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) used the “one country, two systems” policy to highlight his promise that Hong Kong would be allowed to keep its freedom. His pledge that Hong Kong’s horse racing, dancing and stock markets would continue unchanged for 50 years still rings fresh. However, the “one country, two systems” policy is now gone in all except name, because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) keeps interfering in Hong Kong — and in early 2003, it reached its dirty hands all the way into the territory’s judiciary.
In late February that year, Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners traveled to Hong Kong to take part in a legal activity. The Hong Kong government forcibly repatriated them. For the next four years, four Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners and the activity leader in Hong Kong sought a judicial review of the incident and demanded that the Hong Kong High Court declare illegal the government’s decision to forcibly repatriate the group and order punitive damages for those who were detained.
During the review, it became clear that the repatriation decision was preposterous. However, on March 23, 2007, the Hong Kong High Court announced its verdict in this case — the first human rights court case involving Taiwan and Hong Kong — and flatly rejected the Falun Gong practitioners’ claims.
The decision ignored human rights, as the court caved in to Chinese pressure and heralded the end of the long-standing rule of law in Hong Kong.
For example, Article 4 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states: “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of other persons in the Region in accordance with law.”
The judge’s interpretation was that the group had arrived at the Hong Kong airport, but since they had not completed immigration procedures, they were not “in” Hong Kong, so they did not enjoy such protection.
Other governments exercise their judicial powers in the territories under their jurisdiction, so the question to ask is: “Would the Hong Kong government also ignore a murder committed at the airport?”
Surprisingly, the High Court clearly gave in to China’s pressure and arbitrarily misinterpreted the law in this case, which dealt with fundamental guarantees of basic human rights.
Since 1997, there have been several instances of China playing the rogue and using force to threaten the people of Hong Kong. Today, the situation has worsened. Not only have media outlets become pro-Chinese, pro-Chinese terrorist incidents keep occurring.
When Next Media Group chairman Jimmy Lai (黎智英), an anti-Beijing media tycoon, financially assisted Hong Kong’s democracy movement, his computers were attacked by hackers and his home was searched by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, the territory’s anticorruption watchdog. In addition, the Hong Kong Economic Journal canceled the column of hedge fund manager Edward Chin (錢志健), who has strongly supported the Occupy Central movement. These incidents make it clear that the freedom of expression is being restricted and that self-censorship is on the rise.
For 17 years, Chinese Communist Party manipulation and pressure have permeated Hong Kong, causing its economy to deteriorate and infringing on its freedoms of expression and religious belief.
Hong Kongers’ basic human rights and living space have come under pressure as freedom and human rights are disappearing. Not only is Hong Kong no longer a bastion of free-market economics, it has become another “red city” under party rule.
The Aug. 31 decision by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Conference regarding universal suffrage in Hong Kong that put an end to democratic elections angered residents who declared the arrival of an “age of civil disobedience,” while university and high-school students began a strike and joined other residents in a grand occupation of the territory’s Central business district and other areas.
As various nations voiced support for the protests, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) reiterated that the “one country, two systems” approach would be applied to Taiwan as well.
In in his poem Liberty and Love, 19th-century Hungarian poet Sandor Petofi wrote: “Liberty and love, I need them both. For my love I will sacrifice my life. For liberty I will sacrifice my love.” This precious liberty is fast disappearing in Hong Kong.
In addition to lamenting the situation there, Taiwanese must also take warning. To prevent what is happening in Hong Kong today from happening in Taiwan tomorrow, Taiwanese must reject China’s “united front” strategy and see through the chimera of the “one country, two systems” policy that is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Wu Hui-lin is a researcher at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.
Translated by Perry Svensson