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July 21st, 2016:

Who’s ruining ‘one country, two systems’?

Beijing has made it clear that it doesn’t want advocates of Hong Kong independence to run in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

In a recent speech, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong, asked if allowing independence advocates to run in the Legco polls or become members of the legislature is in line with the “one country, two systems” principle that governs China’s rule over the territory.

He said: “If Hong Kong independence advocates are allowed to turn the run-up to the Legco election into a process of proactive promotion of independence, or even allow them to enter Legco gloriously, does this comply with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, the Basic Law and the principle of the rule of law?

“Which direction would it take Hong Kong society toward? Is this a blessing or a curse for the city? This is not just a legal matter, but also a matter of right and wrong, bottom line and principle, and a matter that concerns the city’s direction of development.

“Everyone who is genuinely concerned about Hong Kong’s well-being should think deeply and be alert about this.”

His remarks came on the heels of a new requirement by the Electoral Affairs Commission for Legco candidates to sign a declaration of allegiance to the Basic Law and the Hong Kong SAR government, particularly its provision that the territory is under Chinese sovereignty.

By its very action of meddling in the political affairs of Hong Kong, Beijing is violating the “one China, two systems” principle.

While promoting the policy to show to the world that it is giving the territory a high degree of autonomy, Beijing has continued to play a leading role in the city’s political affairs.

It has been building its relationship with local organizations and communities to boost its influence in the grassroots.

While appearing to be a benevolent parent or guidance counsellor to the government, Beijing has virtually become the ruling party of Hong Kong.

It has been calling the shots since 1997. It has been dictating to Hong Kong officials what policies to pursue, what projects to undertake, and even who should be voted into office.

Under existing Hong Kong laws, any Hong Kong resident with sufficient nomination should be qualified to run as a candidate in any election.

There are no laws requiring candidates to pledge their allegiance to Beijing.

As such, any requirement that election candidates must pledge their loyalty to Beijing is an infusion of Chinese norms into Hong Kong’s political environment.

In fact, the Basic Law is meant to protect Hong Kong from direct intervention from China.

Article 22 states: “No department of the Central People’s Government and any province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”

Of course, Hong Kong people respect Zhang’s right to speak out on the current political situation in Hong Kong.

But considering that he is the most senior official of the Chinese government in Hong Kong, he should be circumspect about the impact of his remarks, and see to it that they don’t raise doubts about Beijing’s implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle.

Beijing officials should understand that the emergence of individuals and groups advocating independence or self-determination resulted from their own failure to allow Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders through genuine universal suffrage.

These individuals and groups are presenting the concept of independence as an option to Hong Kong people, which is in line with the freedom of expression that they are supposed to continue to enjoy despite the change of sovereignty in 1997.

It is a principle that is being presented by certain candidates to the electorate, and whether that principle is acceptable to the people will depend on the results of the election.

These candidates should not be maligned and accused of pushing Hong Kong to disaster. It’s up to the Hong Kong people to discuss and determine whether the principles and concepts they advocate are acceptable or not.

In short, let the people decide.

In February, an independence advocate, Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, secured 15 percent of the votes in the Legco by-election.

That’s a strong showing, and it reflects the people’s growing disenchantment with the way Beijing has been meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong.

They are attracted to the concept of independence because Beijing, through its loyalists in the SAR government, has failed to maintain a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong as promised under the Basic Law.

They think that after the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has remained under colonial rule, but the masters this time come from China.

Despite its promise, Beijing has failed to respect the uniqueness of Hong Kong and has been making efforts to turn it into a Chinese city.

The current SAR administration’s focus on participating in the Belt and Road initiative is but one example of this policy to integrate Hong Kong into China’s economic system, denying the territory the right to explore its options and build its own economic model.

But no matter how determined Beijing is in condemning pro-independence candidates and preventing them from winning seats in the legislature, the idea that they are fighting for will continue to grow unless the conditions that allowed it to germinate remain in place.