[OPINION] Defending Hong Kong and our liberal values is the only option

Martin Lee
[OPINION] Defending Hong Kong and our liberal values is the only option
Martin Lee: 'Hong Kong people are not challenging Beijing – we are merely asking that China uphold her pledges'

At midnight on July 1, 1997, my home, Hong Kong, a territory of then 6 1/2 million people was handed over from Britain to the People’s Republic of China.  Almost 21 years later, we have come to a critical moment: promised democratic development has been totally stopped; the young generation in Hong Kong is under attack; and the autonomy and core values we have worked hard to preserve are in serious danger.

I am 79 years old, and have been working for 5 decades as a barrister and advocate for Hong Kong.  I have been the chairman of the Bar, an elected legislator, a pro-democracy political party founder, and a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, which drafted the mini-constitution for Hong Kong.  

In all of these roles, my goal has been to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms, core values, and way of life through our rule of law and an independent judiciary.  My generation has fought hard.  But it is the future generation represented by 21-year old Joshua Wong – who was recently sent to prison twice for his involvement in the 2014 Umbrella Movement – and other young leaders such as Nathan Law, Alex Chow, Agnes Chow and Raphael Wong, who are even more adamant that their rights be absolutely preserved.  

For many decades Liberals around the globe have led support for Hong Kong, understanding that our values are aligned, and that Hong Kong is the best hope for seeing Liberal values take hold in the larger Mainland, China.  

The framework for the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty and people was established by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty registered at the United Nations.  In that treaty, which set out China’s “basic policies regarding Hong Kong”, we, the people of Hong Kong, were promised “one country, two systems”, and a “high degree of autonomy”.

Twenty years ago, the “one country” part of this agreement was implemented, when China assumed control over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.  But Hong Kong people are still waiting for the “two systems” part to be fully implemented. Until we are masters of our own house through universal suffrage, “two systems” will never be a reality. And without genuine democratic elections, none of our freedoms is safe.

Let me be clear: Hong Kong people are not challenging Beijing. We are merely asking that China uphold her pledges to let us freely choose our leaders by universal suffrage as promised in the Basic Law, and exercise that “high degree of autonomy” already promised in the Joint Declaration as a condition for the handover of Hong Kong.  Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.   

But since June, 2014, when the Central Government published a White Paper in claiming that it has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, there has been an acceleration of worrying encroachments which underline the urgent need for democratic elections to preserve basic rights and freedoms in our territory of 7 1/2 million people.  

This trend also spotlights the role of the UK, US, and the international community.  The UK, being a signatory to the Joint Declaration, has completely dropped the ball in defending rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, in order to foster, in the famous words of George Osborne, a “golden relationship with China”.  

The governments of many countries, including USA, Canada, Australia, and many other countries, all supported and still support the “one country, two systems” policy, and they undoubtedly owe the people of Hong Kong a moral obligation to speak up when our system is being changed unilaterally changed by Beijing.

China needs to return to Deng’s blueprint for the “two systems” which would require the much bigger and more powerful Mainland to accommodate the much smaller Hong Kong, like a man playing the seesaw game with his little son, who can only participate in the game if his much heavier father would move towards the center of the plank until an equilibrium is struck.

For a successful implementation of the one country two systems policy in Hong Kong will not only be a model for Taiwan, but also an incentive for our younger generations to stay and build on our successes.  

What better place to start building international confidence than Hong Kong—over which China’s pledges were made in the eyes of the world?  And what better time to start rebuilding confidence in Hong Kong with the full support of our people, both young and old? – Rappler.com

Martin Lee is the Founding Chairperson of Democratic Party of Hong Kong and a CALD Individual Member. This opinion piece is part of the Silver Lining Series written by members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), an organization of liberal and democratic parties in Asia, to celebrate its 25th Anniversary this 2018.