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Rear Window: White paper

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image Severo Portela

I shall be forgiven for the tasteless headline, but believe me it is much better than a cross-reference from Milan Kundera as to the proper way to introduce a white paper not as yet published, if indeed it ever will be. Anyway, Hong Kong’s white paper, given the similarities between the two China SARs on the Pearl River Delta, is a comprehensive tool to understand how “one country” accommodates “two systems.”
Contrary to some extreme readings, probably as a result of an unusually tense climate that brings out the irrational in us, we do not take the white paper as an injunction to choose sides regarding Democracy. As we read the document, the paper is not about democracy tout court but a warning about the limitations of Hong Kong’s autonomy as it runs from the asymmetric constitutional weight of the Basic Law and the PRC’s Constitution.
The time for selling a democracy simulacrum or by-product seems to be gone for good. Larry Diamond, a Stanford University Professor and Regina Ip, an ex-mentor, have no doubt that it is unacceptable to repack democracy: “Beijing has the power to impose constraints on the election process in Hong Kong. But it does not have the right to redefine what democracy is and is not.” The same could probably be applied to the interpretation of what exactly the SARs’ “high degree of autonomy” entails.
Indeed, the White Paper on Hong Kong opens up a new understanding, a kind of symbolic trade-off, between “one country” China and “two systems” Hong Kong and Macau. Special Administrative Regions should adapt to a status of limited autonomy, whilst continuing to argue against the deferral of democracy. Beijing on its side would grant the full set of constitutional liberties and spare the SARs a warning about a democracy trap and unavoidable doom.
Now, the question is where and how to draw the “high degree of autonomy” line within China’s comprehensive jurisdiction as stated in the White Paper. The debate is open, mainly regarding electoral issues. However, we would like to emphasize the reaction of Hong Kong legal professionals. The unease judges felt, and not only in a cohesive model, after being described as “administrators” in the White Paper was enough for the Law Society to call an unusual demonstration to support the Independent Judiciary and the Rule of Law as THE foundation of “one country, two systems” principle. Just recall that the Law Society only took to the streets twice, in 1999, because of the reinterpretation of the right to abode, and in 2005, about the length of term of Donald Tsang, immediately after Tung Chee-hwa resignation.
Rule of Law: if you are looking for a bisector or a do-not-trespass line you have found it!
Post scriptum: Mao and Hamlet.
In 1956, Chairman Mao invited criticism even by non-communists; there were timid comments, usually about small matters. In 1957, Mao did not just call… he demanded criticism. Then came the Anti-Rightist Campaign and it was the end of the Hundred Flowers Campaign. The Campaign had borrowed a classical motto: letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.
Professors Billy Chou and Eric Sautedé more likely went out in a Shakespearean fashion … they took up arms against a sea of troubles.








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