Tue, Jul 04, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Beijing’s ignorance of convention

On the 20th anniversary of the UK’s handover of Hong Kong to China, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on Sunday gave a glowing interpretation of Hong Kong’s apparently unprecedented democratic freedoms, tempered by his “red line” on attempts to realize sovereignty.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), Beijing’s preferred choice for the job, celebrated her recent election, having won 777 votes from a population of almost 7.5 million.

The groundwork for the handover was made in 1984, with the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration by then-People’s Republic of China (PRC) premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) and then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

It was registered by the two governments at the UN on June 12, 1985. There has been no legal reason for it to be rescinded according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which lists error, fraud, corruption, coercion or conflict with a peremptory norm as reasons to invalidate agreements of this type.

Article 8 of the joint declaration states that it, including annexes, is binding.

However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) on Friday said the declaration is “a historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning” and “does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong.”

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) made Beijing’s position on the matter clear three years ago, when a British delegation wanting to visit Hong Kong to monitor the government’s adherence to the treaty was refused entry.

“Britain has no sovereignty over Hong Kong that was returned to China, no authority and no right to oversight,” she said at the time.

Among other things, Article 3.5 of the joint declaration states that: “Current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged and so will the lifestyle.”

It goes on to assert that “rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, [and] … of religious belief will be ensured by law,” that these would be stated in a Basic Law and that “they will remain unchanged for 50 years.”

That Hong Kong would be allowed to carry on essentially unchanged after the handover for 50 years was central to the joint declaration and to the British government’s attempts to calm the fears of Hong Kongers concerned that everything they knew about their lifestyle and social, economic and governmental systems was about to change.

All documents are historical in one sense of the word. To call a legally binding agreement a historical document “that no longer has any realistic meaning” just over three decades after it was officially registered and less than 20 years after it took effect, when it specifies a period of 50 years, is disingenuous.

This highlights the folly of believing any assurances by Beijing about how Taiwan’s systems and way of life would be unaltered should China ever annex the nation.

It is also disconcerting that Beijing can so easily discard and unilaterally declare void a joint declaration made in good faith with another member of the international community.

Chinese authorities’ view of the joint declaration smacks of hypocrisy.

The so-called “1992 consensus” — a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) admitted having made up in 2000 — is merely an oral agreement, not a signed agreement registered with the UN.

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