Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 8 News List

HK's silent masses no longer mute

By Wang Dan 王丹

To understand the furor induced by Hong Kong's proposed Article 23 legislation as well as its impact, one has to understand the background of the legislation.

On the eve of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, the British authorities in the colony introduced democratic reforms to the territory's liberal legal system. Beijing was extremely suspicious of the UK's motives.

When the pro-democracy movement erupted in 1989, 1 million people hit the streets in Hong Kong to voice their support. Hong Kong student representatives also took part in the organization work of the Tiananmen Square demonstration. This deep-ened Beijing's worry that Hong Kong would become a base for opposing China.

China is not willing to see the UK continue to take advantage of Hong Kong's freedoms and democratic system to have any influence on its politics. This is the basic reason behind Beijing promoting Article 23 legislation in the Basic Law.

Around the time of Hong Kong's handover in 1997, China finally stepped clear of the predicament of the June 4 massacre both politically and economically. Its rulers regained some confidence in governing the nation, thereby reducing the urgency of the push for Article 23 in Hong Kong.

To secure the stability of Hong Kong's return and make efforts to reverse its diplomatic situation, China has tried to dodge the territory's democratic forces. For example, it allows exiled pro-democracy activists such as Lu Siqing (盧四清) and Han Dongfang (韓東方) to participate in democracy movements, and allows the June 4 candlelight vigil to be held in Victoria Park every year.

But why do the Chinese authorities want to force Article 23 legislation at a time when public rancor in the territory is surging and its economy is in a slump? According to information we have obtained, we believe that this is former Chinese president Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) personal decision.

His visit to Hong Kong last year was met with protests by hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners. Jiang reportedly was enraged. He then ordered the Hong Kong government to push the legislation in order to provide a legal basis for suppressing similar activities.

A vital regulation in Article 23 stipulates that all the organizations banned in China must also be banned in Hong Kong as well. This is aimed at the Falun Gong.

The massive turnout at the July 1 demonstration can be attributed to the correct policy of the democratic faction, which focused the protest on opposing Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) and Article 23. Opposition against one-party politics was not at issue this time. Although the outside world estimated the number of participants at 500,000, the actual figure was likely over 750,000.

Such strong public support has put the central government in an awkward position. The best solution would be to return to its original stance and shelve Article 23. But this will set a precedent for making concessions to the people. And moreover, this will foster Jiang's discontent with President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).

The central government is now gathering opinions from all circles in search of a solution. They have heard three complaints -- people are dissatisfied with the economy, people are dissatisfied with Tung and people are dissatisfied with Article 23.

Now China needs to make two policies, which will also be the focus of public attention. One is related to the concessions it should make on Article 23 -- either making more alterations or delaying the legislation indefin-itely. The other is whether it should forsake Tung. What exactly Beijing will do next is still unknown, which suggests that differences of opinion exist inside the government.

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