Beijing warns Hong Kong over autonomy

Chinese government says it holds ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ over the city

Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4th to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Photograph: AP Photo/Cyrus Wong

Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4th to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Photograph: AP Photo/Cyrus Wong

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 01:00

The Chinese government has issued its sternest warning yet to freewheeling Hong Kong, saying the central administration in Beijing holds “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the city and is the source of its autonomy.

This was stressed in a white paper issued by Beijing’s State Council.

The former Crown colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, but it enjoys multiple freedoms denied north of the border, such as freedom of expression and limited democracy. That democracy could be expanded in the next couple of years when the city could choose its own leader.

“A socialist system by the mainland is the prerequisite and guarantee for Hong Kong’s practising capitalism and maintaining its stability and prosperity,” the white paper said.

It stressed that while the city could go for elections, any candidates for senior leadership had to be loyal to the country. China’s national security and interests were at stake, it added.

Voting on a broad level in Hong Kong would be the first example of democracy in mainland China, and poses a threat to single-party rule by the Communist Party, which has run China since the 1949 revolution.

“The high degree of autonomy of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is subject to the central leadership’s authorisation, with no such thing called ‘residual power’,” ran the white paper issued on the Chinese government-backed Xinhua news agency.

When Britain gave Hong Kong back to China in 1997, the terms included a “two systems-one country” package and a mini-constitution known as “Basic Law”. This enshrines democratic rights, which irks many in the communist leadership, as reflected in the white paper published this week.

“The ‘two systems’ means that, within the ‘one country’ the main body of the country practises socialism, while Hong Kong and some other regions practice capitalism,” it ran.

The unprecedented white paper is intended to set the tone for political debate, and comes after tens of thousands marched in Hong Kong to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the killing of democracy activists in Tiananmen Square.

The white paper was released in seven languages through Xinhua and came 10 days before Occupy Central activists calling for greater democracy were to hold an unofficial referendum on options for the 2017 election of the chief executive.

The Xinhua report said the person elected as chief executive had to be loyal to the country. Hong Kong’s Bar Association hit back, saying Beijing was mistaken to place local judges in the same category of “Hong Kong’s administrators” as the chief executive and principal officials. The judiciary will remain separate and independent from the executive and legislature, it said.

It went to say that while courts “elsewhere” may “sing in unison” with the government, it said that is “most definitely” not the case in Hong Kong.