Fri, Jun 29, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Hong Kong is less free, activists say

SHORTSIGHTED? Panelists at a forum hosted by Taiwan Thinktank yesterday said that Hong Kong had sacrificed its freedoms on the altar of economic gain

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Freedom of speech and political participation in Hong Kong has suffered under Beijing's "one country, two systems" formula since the former British colony was handed over to China 10 years ago, Hong Kong and Taiwanese political observers said yesterday.

"Since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has on the surface remained a free society and people have continued to enjoy their same way of life. However, if you scratch the surface you see that China's surveillance of Hong Kong has affected its politics, culture and society," said Albert Ho (何俊仁), chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, at a forum hosted by Taiwan Thinktank in Taipei yesterday.

"Beijing does not believe in democracy and it utilizes `one country, two systems' as a tool to subjugate Hong Kong," he added.

Ho said the Chinese National People's Congress had the authority to "interpret" rulings made by Hong Kong's administration, legislature and judiciary as well as Hong Kong's Constitution, the Basic Law.

In other words, Beijing authorities are free to meddle in Hong Kong's affairs, he said.

The remarks made by Chinese National People's Congress Standing Committee Chairman Wu Bangguo (吳邦國) in a seminar on Hong Kong's Basic Law in Beijing earlier this month were cause for concern, Ho said.

At the time, Wu said that the special administrative region of Hong Kong possessed only as much power as China's central government deigned to grant it.

These remarks showed that Beijing believed it had the power to rescind Hong Kong's autonomy at any time, despite its claimed acceptance of the "one country, two systems" formula, Ho told the forum.

Panelist Albert Lam (林子健), a central committee member of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, said the massive demonstration held on July 1, 2003, represented a watershed after which people in Hong Kong had become indifferent about pursing democracy.

Lam was referring to demonstrations in which more than 500,000 people in Hong Kong took to the streets to voice their protest against the proposed article 23 of the Basic Law that prohibited acts of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the Beijing government.

The bill was subsequently shelved indefinitely.

Lam said that Beijing had "bribed" Hong Kong's people with economic policies such as the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and the opening up of Hong Kong to Chinese tourists.

As a result, Hong Kong had sacrificed its freedoms on the altar of economic gain, he said.

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