Pro-democracy lawmakers have said that Chinese President Xi Jinping put a stronger emphasis on China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong during his visit to the city.
A focus of Xi’s speech during the inauguration ceremony for Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday was that “One Country is the root” which comes before “Two Systems,” and that the Basic Law should be implemented correctly.
Three pro-democracy lawmakers told HKFP that Xi’s speech indicated a hardline approach towards the administration of Hong Kong.
“We believe a serious issue is that he did not speak a lot about the ‘Two Systems.’ Even though he said the differences between the two systems have to be respected, he did not touch on the issues of safeguarding Hong Kong’s special system and avoiding interference from Chinese authorities such as the Liaison Office,” said Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen.
Xi urged Hong Kong to “step up the patriotic education of young people.” In response, Ip said it would be fine if such education would spark young people’s interest in public affairs.
“But if patriotic education only discusses the positive side, then it would not be good,” he said.
Xi also said that awareness of the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law should be increased among civil servants and young people.
“It would not be okay if [education] spoonfeeds values [to them],” Ip said. “We believe that these topics should be part of civic education, and students should be taught the information along with the ability to reflect and think independently.”
Accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung said Xi spoke a good deal about economic issues, but he mainly stressed Hong Kong’s cooperation with the mainland, such as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and the Pearl River Delta Bay Area development scheme.
“But can they solve the issues that have stacked up in the past? [Economic cooperation with the mainland] may not be the only way out for Hong Kong people,” he said.
Xi also said China can communicate with people holding different views, if they are patriotic and uphold the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the Basic Law.
Asked if the remark suggests potential communication with the pro-democracy camp, Leung said: “But it stops at communication.”
IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok noted that Xi did not mention universal suffrage or democratic reform in his speech: “These are the most important things.”
But Starry Lee, chairwoman of the largest pro-Beijing party, told HKFP that the president’s remarks showed his sincere wish to communicate.
“I don’t think he was taking a more hardline approach, he was clearly expressing the problem of Hong Kong in his view – and to solve it requires having a clear understanding of the relationship between One Country and Two Systems, understanding the Basic Law and the [Chinese] Constitution, continuing our [economic] development, and building a harmonious society,” she said.
She said that Xi’s schedule was tight but he had arranged to meet the deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Office.
“I think under President Xi, we will be able to take care of requests from all sides,” she said. “The central government knows there are different voices in society and it is willing to listen.”
But pro-Beijing camp lawmaker Michael Tien told HKFP there may be a greater push to enact the national security law stipulated by the Article 23 of the Basic Law, which failed to be legislated in 2003 after massive protests.
“[Xi] said improvements are needed to safeguard national sovereignty. For ‘One Country, Two Systems’ to be implemented successfully, there are some things that cannot be challenged,” he said. “Once there is Article 23, there will be no chance of anyone talking about independence anymore.”
Carrie Lam has said that she would legislate the national security law under an appropriate social atmosphere.
“We can’t say this is not the appropriate atmosphere,” Tien said. “When it was discussed [in 2003] there was no Hong Kong independence movement,” he said. “There are even more voters supporting different kinds of self-determination now – isn’t this the right time to discuss it?”