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Published: 14:44, July 01, 2021 | Updated: 14:45, July 01, 2021
Beijing has kept its promise on Hong Kong
By Ho Lok-sang
Published:14:44, July 01, 2021 Updated:14:45, July 01, 2021 By Ho Lok-sang

The 24th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong back to China marks the end of a tumultuous 10 years that started with a small-scale "Occupy Central" protest from Oct 15, 2011, to Sept 11, 2012. This protest, with protesters fluctuating between two dozen and 200-plus, took up much of the ground level of the HSBC building. This protest, like the global Occupy movement at the time, was against corporate greed and economic inequality. It probably gave Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting and his company the inspiration to launch "Occupy Central with Love and Peace" that took place in 2014.

Tai's Occupy movement was launched on the allegation that Beijing had not kept its promise. But that is simply not true.

What did Beijing promise Hong Kong? Article 68 of the Basic Law reads: The method for forming the Legislative Council shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage.

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Here is how Beijing had kept its promise of gradual and orderly progress. On the eve of the handover in 1997, 10 seats were elected by the Election Committee, 30 were functional constituency seats; only 20 were directly elected. In 2000, the Electoral Committee seats were reduced to six; directly elected seats rose to 24. In 2004, seats elected by the Electoral Committee were abolished altogether. Directly elected seats rose further to 30. In 2012, LegCo seats were raised to 70, half of which were directly elected and half were functional constituency seats, including five that were elected among District Council members.

This explicit challenge to the Basic Law followed the 2012 protest against the Moral and National Education curriculum in Hong Kong's schools

We clearly see gradual and orderly progress. Those who agitated need to understand that "in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong" means that progress can be expected if, and only if, Hong Kong people can demonstrate that they are mature, stable and reliable.

Regarding election of the chief executive, Article 45 states very clearly: The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government. The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

Even though the Basic Law had gone through much consultation and was promulgated into law in 1990, the Civic Party sought to overturn Article 45. Along with the Alliance for True Democracy, it wanted the chief executive to be nominated by some number of Hong Kong people at large. "Civic Nomination: What is there to fear?" was the theme of a forum held in 2013 that I attended as one of the speakers. Many core members of the Civic Party are senior counsels and certainly know that the Basic Law must not be violated.

Evidently, agitating to demand dumping key provisions in the Basic Law would not earn Beijing's trust.

This explicit challenge to the Basic Law followed the 2012 protest against the Moral and National Education curriculum in Hong Kong's schools. In 2014, the "Occupy Central" movement led by Tai and others tried to force Beijing to dump Article 45 and Article 68, effectively rendering Hong Kong de facto independent except by name.

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Notwithstanding the apparent breach of faith from the "pan-democrats", the HKSAR government came up with a very liberal political reform package based on the Aug 31, 2014, NPCSC decision stipulating that anyone interested in the chief executive post must secure the support of at least 50 percent of the members of the nominating committee in order to become a candidate. To enter the race for formal nomination by the nominating committee, one only needed to seek the nomination of 10 percent of the members of the committee. After passing this threshold, potential candidates can engage in public debates to earn the support of the public and that of the nominating committee. Two to three candidates would then be finalized for the public to vote on.

The political reform package that would have led to election of the chief executive by universal suffrage regrettably was rejected by LegCo. That reform package stayed within the terms of the Basic Law and obviously had the blessing of Beijing.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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