April 29, 2005
MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS
FROM: ELLEN BORK, Deputy Director
SUBJECT: Hong Kong: Three Strikes, Youre Out?
On Wednesday, Beijing announced it will ignore the provisions of the Basic Law, Hong Kongs so-called constitution, that govern the term of office for the Beijing-appointed chief executive. This is the third time that Beijing has chosen to reinterpret the language of the Basic Law to suit its political requirements. Last year, Beijing reinterpreted the Basic Law to rule out steps toward greater democracy in the near future, and in 1999, it forced a reversal of a decision by Hong Kongs highest court.
To listen to the Bush administration, however, you might think this most recent interference by Beijing is a good thing. According to James Keith, Americas Consul General in Hong Kong, Wednesdays intervention was an improvement over the last one because there was better communication between Beijing and Hong Kong. It is natural that the process will be a little rocky at times, because both Beijing and Hong Kong are on a learning curve.
Donald Tsang, Beijings new top apparatchik, also offered empty reassurances. Eager to win Beijings approval for a full term in the future, Mr. Tsang advised the Hong Kong people to take these issues pragmatically with a heart at ease. But he suggested some sensitivity to their concerns. After all, he said, We used to use the common law tradition. (Emphasis added.)
Sir Donalds reference to Hong Kongs common law system in the past tense should sound the alarm in London and Washington. Continuation of the common law system was a specific promise of Beijings, often cited as a key barometer of Hong Kongs autonomy by the international community.
The problem is that neither the common law, nor anything else Beijing promised Hong Kong, such as civil liberties and judicial independence, stands a chance without the democratization of Hong Kong that Chinas rulers are adamant about preventing. On that point, the U.S. is compliant as well. The central government will do whatever they deem appropriate, based on their own interpretation of their own interests," Mr. Keith said. But as they consider the consequences and the impact of Hong Kong's success in the future, inevitably they will think about the international context.
It is not clear what
consequences or international context Mr. Keith
referred to. The international community and the U.S. have failed to respond
in the past, and, as Mr. Keiths remarks and the silence from the
upper echelons of the Bush administration suggest, it appears that no
response is planned now. Is anyone paying attention on Capitol Hill?