Hong Kong’s laws ‘are being eroded’

Martin Lee and Anson Chan are leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement advocating for the autonomy promised under China’s “one country, two systems” governance model. Last week, they spoke with The Post’s Lally Weymouth in Hong Kong about the effect of student protests, the need for the United States to speak out and their fear that important freedoms may be slipping away. Excerpts:

Martin Lee: The whole reason for the [2014 student protest] movement was because Beijing kept on postponing democracy for Hong Kong. It was originally promised to us that 10 years after the [1997] handover, Hong Kong could have democracy both for the election of the chief executive as well as the entire legislature. They postponed it twice. So finally they promised it to us in 2017. But last year . . . the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing made a decision. . . . We would be able to elect one out of three candidates but all three candidates would effectively be chosen by Beijing through a Beijing-controlled nominating committee.

Question: Now what happens?

Lee: For the government to push their package through, the Basic Law requires two-thirds of all the members of the legislature.

And the government doesn’t have the votes?

Anson Chan: They don’t have them. They need to swing about five extra votes from the democrat camp.

Lee: And all of them have now vowed that they will vote it down. The government has to come up with a bill to amend our electoral laws. A great deal depends on what Beijing decides.

The chief executive [Leung Chun-ying] said Beijing decided last August.

Lee: The Hong Kong government keeps on saying that because a decision has been made, you cannot change it. If the government now insists that any bill they are going to present to the legislative council will not be inconsistent with the decision made in August of last year, then of course the democrat camp will block it.

Then the status quo will prevail?

Lee: Yes. But I would have thought that if you are in Beijing, you don’t mind the status quo. Then the control remains with them because they control the majority of the 1,200 members of the election committee. It is easier for Beijing to control them than to control 5 million voters in Hong Kong.

Logically, Beijing should be happy with the status quo. Beijing wants to give universal suffrage to Hong Kong but they insist on controlling the nominating process so that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping can say to [President] Obama “I have done what I promised. Hong Kong people now have universal suffrage. One person, one vote.” And of course he will not mention that he picked all the candidates.

Will there be more demonstrations?

Lee: There are bound to be, yes.

Chan: And governance will remain increasingly difficult. The question is whether Beijing has really made up its mind or whether — at the very last minute — there will be a change of heart and they will make some concessions.

I understand this is a very divided city. Students have a difficult time finding affordable housing.

Lee: The government’s pretext or explanation of this student movement is to say they are thinking of [the cost of] their flats and that is why so many of them came to protest. But that is wrong. They were certainly there for democracy more than anything else. Apart from democracy, there is a pent-up feeling of frustration and increasing anger at this government that doesn’t seem to care what people think of it, doesn’t see as its main responsibility to defend “one country, two systems,” a high degree of autonomy, and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong.

So the students are mad?

Chan: Not just the students. A lot of Hong Kong people are very angry. A great deal of division has come about as the result of the action or inaction of the chief executive. Look at the way he went about demonizing the entire Occupy Central movement — attributing untrue motives to the proponents of Occupy Central, playing up the fact that there is foreign interference.

There is increasing infiltration at all levels of Hong Kong society by either known or underground Communist cadres. You see it in the appointments that the government makes to various boards and advisory committees, the way they are intruding into academic freedom in terms of appointing people to academic positions, the way they are muzzling the press. . . .

We are increasingly concerned about our freedoms. Particularly freedom of expression — academic freedom and freedom of the press.

If there is no compromise, there will be more demonstrations?

Chan: Oh yes. The democrats will block the bill. And you will see an increasingly dysfunctional legislature. They will make it their business to confront the government at every turn. . . .

Do you see a way out of this?

Chan: The best is to hope that somehow Beijing can be persuaded to compromise a bit. Beijing will have to decide for itself, is it prepared to see a worsening of the situation for the next five years? Or is it better to trust the Hong Kong people a little? We keep saying to Beijing, “If only you would trust the voters.” We will elect a chief executive who can work with Beijing, because nobody in their right mind would seek to confront Beijing at every turn. But at the same time, [this person must] earn the support of Hong Kong people by helping us to defend “one country, two systems,” protect our rights and freedoms, and the rule of law.

I think we can be sure that if the government does not budge and simply presents us with a set of proposals that rigidly sticks to the August 31 decision, there will be people coming out into the streets again.

Does Beijing care?

Lee: Yes. It looks bad.

What do you think about the U.S. government?

Lee: Too quiet.

Is that because of the relationship between the U.S. and Beijing?

Lee: I think it has to be.

Chan: I think it is important for the United States to pay attention to what is happening in Hong Kong — if only as an indication of how Beijing regards its international treaty obligations.

Lee: Back in 1984, when the Sino-British joint declaration was first announced, the Chinese government asked for support for fear that if there was no encouragement from the international community, there would be too many Hong Kong people leaving. So if your government was lobbied then to support the “one country, two systems” policy, when things go wrong it has a moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong to speak up for us.

The laws will be eroded?

Chan: They already are being eroded. We want to stop the rate of deterioration.

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