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Thursday, September 22, 2016, 23:30

The Basic Law outlines ‘rules of procedure’ for post-2047

By Song Sio-chong

Song Sio-chong, making references to the Basic Law, explains why Hong Kong will always remain part of China and why there can be no room for separatist movements.

2047 means different things to different people in Hong Kong. To most people, it is a date far away in the future. To some, it represents the mistaken belief that there will be a “second negotiation” on the future of the SAR beyond 2047 — but they are unclear between whom. To some separatists, it is an opportunity to call for a “referendum” on their advocacy of “self-determination”.

The Basic Law outlines ‘rules of procedure’ for post-2047 But they all have it wrong. This matter was well settled — at least procedurally — when the Basic Law was enacted in 1990.

Article 5 of this law states: “The socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in the HKSAR, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.” This implies that the HKSAR will be practicing the capitalist system and way of life until 2047. Beyond 2047, the arrangement may be changed subject to the amendment mechanism provided in Article 159.

By virtue of the first paragraph of Article 159, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has been vested with the power to amend the Basic Law. Other than the NPC, any institution will not have such authority; notions like a “second negotiation” or “self-determination” make no sense at all.

Pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 159, it is noted that “the power to propose bills of amendment to this law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the NPC (NPCSC), the State Council and the HKSAR.” So there will be no other institutions or mechanism that can propose bills of amendment.

In the said paragraph, it is also clarified that amendment bills from the HKSAR shall be submitted to the NPC by the delegation of the SAR to the NPC after obtaining the consent of two-thirds of the deputies of the SAR to the NPC, two-thirds of all members of the LegCo, and the Chief Executive.

In other words, any amendment bill can be produced only after having a trio concurrence of two-thirds of the deputies of the SAR to the NPC, two-thirds of all members of the LegCo, and the Chief Executive.

Furthermore, there is a procedural requirement in the third paragraph of Article 159 that, “before a bill for amendment to this law is put on the agenda of the NPC, the Committee for the Basic Law of the HKSAR shall study it and submit its review”.

Taking the present political atmosphere into account, most Hong Kong people believe it is highly unlikely for Hong Kong to secure such an amendment bill with a trio concurrence toward 2047. Even if two-thirds of the deputies of the SAR to the NPC and the Chief Executive agree to such a bill, it is unlikely that the bill will secure the approval of two-thirds of all members of the LegCo, judging from past experience and the present composition of the local legislature.

One may suggest: If the procedure for Hong Kong to initiate an amendment bill does not work, might the NPCSC or the State Council just do the SAR a favor?

No one knows the answer. But one could expect that the NPCSC or the State Council would ask in response, “Why?” Hong Kong people, the local lawmakers and the SAR government have to ask themselves this question.

Hong Kong has been referred to metaphorically as a goose which laid the golden egg when it was an economic city — but now the city has become a place of tense political struggles. “Why it should be continued?” Hong Kong people ought to inquire themselves before someone else is asked.

The solution to this will depend on the actual situation in Hong Kong, rapid economic, social and political development on the mainland should not be ignored. In 1997, the Hong Kong economy in terms of GDP was one-fourth of the mainland’s and now it has become one-40th. By analogy from past data, the Hong Kong economy will be less than 1 percent of the mainland’s by 2047 — by then, only a small fraction of Shenzhen’s economy.

No matter what the SAR will become, Hong Kong will always remain part of China. The issue of 2047 will be settled in accordance with the procedures given in Article 159 of the Basic Law. No matter what the decision is, a rising China will take good care of its SARs. Hong Kong simply has no room for separatist movements.

Meanwhile, learning from past lessons prior to 1997, the SAR has adopted a policy of 50 years for most land leases issued since 1997. As a result, the issue of 2047 won’t have much impact on the property market.

The author is a Hong Kong veteran commentator and PhD in law Peking University.

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