Letter to Kit Dawnay, Committee Specialist,
from the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department, Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, 24 May 2004
Thank you for your letter of 22 April asking
for the FCO's comments on developments in Hong Kong since the
elections of 24 November 2003. I attach these comments, as requested.
Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
24 May 2004
Since the District Council elections of last
year there have been several unexpected developments in the debate
about democracy and constitutional issues in Hong Kong. There
were two such developments in particular. The first was the decision
by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPSCS)
on 6 April to "interpret" the Basic Law. This prepared
the way for a second decision on 26 April to set limits on constitutional
developments in Hong Kong. There were demonstrations in support
of greater democratisation on 1 January (100,000 people) and 7
April (10,000 people).
HMG's position on constitutional development
in Hong Kong has not changed; we have consistently stated that
we hope to see early progress towards the Basic Law's ultimate
aims of universal suffrage (for the Chief Executive and the Legislative
Council) at a pace in step with the aspirations of the people
of Hong Kong.
Mr Rammell's two statements in April and recent
answers to Oral Parliamentary Questions in the Lords and Commons
have made clear HMG's concern that the decision by the NPCSC appears
to be inconsistent with the high degree of autonomy which Hong
Kong is guaranteed under the Joint Declaration.
The Prime Minister raised Hong Kong with Premier
Wen Jiabao on 10 May. Both Governments reaffirmed their commitments
to the implementation of the Joint Declaration and agreed that
it is in the interests of both sides to maintain and promote Hong
Kong's prosperity and stability in accordance with the "one
country, two systems" principle and the Basic Law. We agreed
to continue our exchange of views on these issues.
The Foreign Secretary's next Six Monthly Report
to Parliament on Hong Kong (January to June 2004) will include
a detailed account of these developments and HMG's responses.
On 7 January 2004 (developments between 24 November
and the end of December were covered in the last Six Monthly Report
to Parliament) the Hong Kong Chief Executive announced the setting
up of a Constitutional Development Task Force headed by the Chief
Secretary to examine the Basic Law's provisions on constitutional
reform and to collect the views of different sectors of the Hong
Kong Community. However, before the Task Force had completed its
consultation process the Standing Committee of the National People's
Congress (NPCSC), between 2-6 April, took the initiative to interpret
two aspects of the Basic Law (effectively Hong Kong's constitution)
dealing with the procedures for changing the election methods
for the Chief Executive (from 2007) and the Legislative Council
(from 2008). This was only the second time since the handover
that the NPCSC had conducted an interpretation of Hong Kong's
Basic Law; and the first time since then to have done so on their
Although the NPCSC "interpretation",
made public on 6 April, did not rule out changes to the electoral
process in 2007 the real new element was that any change to either
the election of the Chief Executive or the Legislative Council
had first to be proposed by the Chief Executive and then cleared
by the NPCSC before any amendment to the Basic Law could be introduced.
Previously, the relevant provision in the Basic Law had merely
stated that "if there is a need to amend the method"
(for selecting the Chief Executive or electing the Legislative
Council) "such amendments must be made with the endorsement
of a two-thirds majority of all members of the Legislative Council
and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported
to the NPCSC for the record."
Mr Rammell issued the following statement on
7 April expressing concern that the interpretation appeared to
have eroded the high degree of autonomy that was guaranteed under
the terms of the Joint Declaration and which underpins Hong Kong's
stability and prosperity:
We understand that the National People's Congress
Standing Committee (NPCSC) has the ultimate authority to interpret
the Basic Law. However, we are concerned that they should have
taken the initiative to offer an interpretation on this issue.
We also share the concern in Hong Kong that the procedure set
out by the NPCSC requiring a submission from The Chief Executive
adds a further step to the procedure set out in the Annexes to
the Basic Law. This appears to us to erode the high degree of
autonomy which is guaranteed under the terms of the Joint Declaration
and which underpins Hong Kong's stability and prosperity. We hope
that the NRC will take account of these concerns.
We believe that it is now important for the
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government to continue
its consultation of Hong Kong people and come foward soon with
concrete proposals for constitutional development in line with
the Basic Law and the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.
We have always said that we would like to
see early progress towards the Basic Law's aim of universal suffrage
for the election of the Chief Executive and Legislative Council
at a pace in line with the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.
We note that it is confirmed that changes in the electoral system
is possible under the Basic Law in time for the 2007 elections.
We shall continue to monitor closely the implications
of these developments for the implementation of the Joint Declaration,
including Hong Kong's legislative and judicial power.
The Joint Declaration has made no specific provisions
relating to the precise electoral procedures for the Chief Executive
and the Legislative Council. It does, however, provide that the
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enjoy a high degree
of autonomy, except in Foreign and defence affairs which are the
responsibility of the Central People's Government.
On 26 April, following a report from the Hong
Kong SAR Government to Beijing, the NPCSC gave a "decision"
on the issue of whether Hong Kong should be allowed to change
the election method for the Chief Executive in 2007 and for Legislative
Council in 2008. The NPCSC decided that the method could be changed,
but explicitly stated that universal suffrage in 2007-08 would
not be allowed. It also ruled that the system of forming Legislative
Council to be used in the 2004 elections (50% of seats elected
by "functional constituencies" and 50% directly elected)
could be adapted, but that the ratio of functional to directly
elected seats must remain the same.
The NPC "decision" is a cause for
concern and we responded rapidly to this development. Mr Rammell
issued the following statement on 26 April expressing our concern
and disappointment at the NPCSC decision:
This decision seems to us to be inconsistent
with the "high degree of autonomy" which Hong Kong is
guaranteed under the Joint Declaration.
I am also disappointed that the NRC has set
limits to constitutional development in Hong Kong that are not
required by the Basic Law, especially before the Hong Kong Government
has completed its consultation and put forward proposals for development.
I shall be meeting today with the Chinese
Ambassador to express our concerns to the Chinese authorities.
We look forward to seeing the proposals that
the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG)
comes forward with in the light of this decision. We continue
to hope that early progress can be made towards the Basic Law's
ultimate aims of the election of the Chief Executive and all members
of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, at a pace in
line with the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.
We will continue to follow events in Hong
Kong closely. We value the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,
which is of great benefit to both China and the UK.
We have made our concerns clear to the Chinese
authorities through Mr Rammell's statements and at his meeting
with the Chinese Ambassador on 26 April. Peter Hain also raised
these issues with Hong Kong's Chief Executive and the Chinese
vice-Foreign Minister during his visit to the region last month.
In a Reuters interview on 29 April Premier Wen
Jiabao publicly confirmed the Basic Law's ultimate aim was the
election of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council by
universal suffrage. The Prime Minister discussed Hong Kong with
Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to the UK earlier this month.
In a Joint Statement the UK and China reaffirmed our commitments
to the implementation of the 1984 Joint Declaration and agreed
it was in the best interests of Hong Kong to maintain and promote
Hong Kong's prosperity and stability in accordance with the "one
country, two systems" principle and the Basic Law. We agreed
to continue our exchange of views. At the press conference with
Premier Wen on 10 May the Prime Minister emphasised this point
saying "We agreed our commitment as co-signatories to the
Joint Declaration to stability, prosperity and a high degree of
autonomy for Hong Kong. We've agreed to take forward our dialogue
in a spirit of co-operation."
The Hong Kong Constitutional Development Task
Force released its third report on 11 May, setting out the possible
scope of amendments to the methods of selecting the Chief Executive
in 2007 and Legislative Council in 2008 within the scope of the
NPCSC "decision". For the Chief Executive election,
potential amendments include the size and composition of the Electoral
Committee and the delineation and size of its electorate. For
the Legislative Council, possible changes include the number of
Functional and Geographical Constituencies (though in equal proportion).
The Task Force also announced a three-month consultation period,
to be concluded by 31 August.
We continue to follow developments in Hong Kong
closely and will continue to raise our concerns if it appears
to us that the high degree of autonomy guaranteed under the terms
of the Joint Declaration is being eroded.