It is unfortunate and regrettable that there is so much misunderstanding about the roles of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and those of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The nature of both organizations, by definition, dictates that both have to take a keen interest in developments in Hong Kong. It should not, therefore, surprise anyone that when some developments could threaten the smooth functioning of “one country, two systems”, they will speak out. To me, it would be very strange if they should remain silent after seeing that our Legislative Council has become dysfunctional, for whatever reason.
It is important to note the difference between intervening in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and expressing concern over some troubling developments. I agree with the view that these offices are fundamentally different from other ministries or units under the central government. Those other ministries or units have executive functions. But the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and the Liaison Office do not. Only units with executive functions can “intervene” in Hong Kong affair. Such intervention from elsewhere is not allowed under the Basic Law.
The executive branch of the central government of the People’s Republic of China is made up of 26 constituent departments of the State Council, comprising 21 ministries, such as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Security; three commissions such as the Commission on Development and Reform and the Commission on Health; the central bank, the People’s Bank of China; and the National Audit Office. These units can make and implement policies. The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and the Liaison Office are not policymaking units, and have absolutely no executive powers with which they can intervene in Hong Kong affairs.
Last week, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who presided over the meetings to appoint a Legislative Council House Committee chairman, committed “misconduct in public office” for allowing filibustering and failing to appoint a house chairman after 14 meetings convened for the purpose. “Pan-democratic” lawmakers and their sympathizers accused Beijing of “blatant intervention” and of violation of Article 22 of the Basic Law.
Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee of the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law holds a similar view to mine. He said that while Article 22 of the Basic Law does state that all units under the Central People’s Government should not intervene in internal affairs that are managed by the SAR, mere comments from the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and from the Liaison Office do not constitute a violation of Article 22 of the Basic Law. When asked what then would constitute an intervention, he said: “When there is a substantive impact on the actual operation of the political system.”
The fact is that the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and the Liaison Office have the right to express their concern but that does not constitute an intervention
Of course, there are other views, and we cannot realistically expect a consensus from the community on this matter. However, to be fair, anyone would agree that convening 14 meetings for the sole purpose of appointing a house chairman yet failing to appoint one implies precious time was wasted. Our honorable legislators are on an attractive salary, over HK$100,000 ($12,900) per month, with an end-of-term gratuity of 15 percent. Upon entering office, they vow to “uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and serve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity.” Wasting the precious time of the legislators in this serious matter like what happened would not be acceptable anywhere, and would constitute a dereliction of duty anywhere.
In his defense, Kwok said that he never broke any rules and regulations in discharging his duties as chairman of those meetings. As a lawyer, he certainly knows the technical aspects of the law. I am not surprised that he had not violated specific clauses in the Rules of Procedure. But effectively chairing a meeting requires judgment over how much time is allowed each speaker and the potential benefits to be gained from protracted debate. Can he demonstrate to us what has been gained from the protracted debates?
I am disappointed at the fumbled responses by the SAR government. In the first instance, the Information Services Department stated that the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government is one of the three organizations set up in the HKSAR by the central government “under Basic Law Art 22 (2).” Then it was revised to “The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR is an office set up in the HKSAR by the Central People’s Government”, not “offices in the HKSAR set up by departments of the Central People’s Government” as stated in Art 22 (2) of the Basic Law.”
Actually, there is no need to make any revision. The fact is that the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and the Liaison Office have the right to express their concern but that does not constitute an intervention. They do not have executive powers and cannot intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs.
The author is a senior research fellow at Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute at Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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