Seeking prosperity and stability for HK
Updated: May 26, 2020
No matter how people in Hong Kong (HK) or elsewhere feel about the British, they were party to an agreement with the Chinese that at least afforded some human rights to HK residents. It is the Joint Declaration that is meant to have settled what otherwise could have been a more complicated set of historical events - as we all know things are complicated enough as they stand! (see our blog on the Joint Declaration)
So assuming that both the CHINESE AND BRITISH were genuinely, and solemnly determined to settle their differences over HK through this treaty in 1984, where does that leave Hongkongers today?
The Sino-British Joint Declaration is contemporary HK's founding document - its CONSTITUTION.
In June 2017, one Chinese official from its Foreign Ministry claimed the Joint Declaration was "a historical document that no longer had any practical significance".
Neither the British or the people of HK would ever allow their legally bound treaty partner to so easily dismiss its obligations!
How could the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ever deny what they had themselves set-up in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) - a high degree of autonomy and certain guaranteed rights and freedoms?
The Joint Declaration is unequivocal in stating in its first paragraph the agreement of Britain and China, "conducive to the maintenance of the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong".
We the people of HK are not the first to say that China has breached the terms of the Joint Declaration, its treaty with the British (see our blogs on China and the breach and China's Warring States). Even Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong under the British, is on record declaring that the National People's Congress Standing Committee criticism of a ruling of Hong Kong's High Court harmed judicial independence and the rule of law.
Patten said it was "of extreme concern" that the NPC made a statement that was "in complete breach of Article 3(3) of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which states that: 'The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication'".
The important thing for citizens of the city is how this breach and others impact our daily lives, and that it gravely impacts both the stability of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and its ongoing prosperity.
On the other hand, there are those on the China-side of things that believe the British are in breach! An article published in The Global Times in August 2019 claims that "The legitimacy of Hong Kong's governance today comes from the Basic Law, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration has no role in that." The Chinese paper went as far as to say that the British have violated the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration by changing its original meaning and attempting to "bring the treaty back from history". It is argued that the Joint Declaration was only meant to guide the negotiated transition of Hong Kong's return to China, with the purpose of ensuring Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
Come on BIG BOYS! Cut out this crap: we expect to hear this kind of "I said..." and "You said..." quarrel between children, not nation states. Start thinking about the damage you are inflicting on the ordinary people of HK. It's us who live in the SAR. It's our lives and our prosperity that are at stake while you each play your tit-for-tat political point scoring and bickering.
What we all need to reach some agreement on, is a basic definition of what we are talking about when we refer to "STABILITY and PROSPERITY".
Are we concerned about just ONE particular kind of stability (e.g. political stability), or many different kinds of stability (e.g. economic, social, mental / psychological / emotional, financial)? And if 'stability' can refer to any and every kind of stability, how do we measure it, and recognise what is stability, and what represents stagnation or regression?
In terms of prosperity, we also need a definition so that we know what it is that the people of HK are aiming for. Is it just about one another's bank balance, or the ability to shop, buy luxury goods, or go on overseas holidays? There are many different things that could be signs of prosperity in the SAR: its GDP, hourly wage rates, median household incomes, credit card use or debt levels, rates of employment/unemployment/underemployment, types and levels of investment, government fiscal reserves, birth rate, average family size, government tax revenue, levels of retirement saving or MPF savings, home ownership versus rental, annual spending on infrastructure, waiting lists for government housing, .....and the list goes on!
In fact, some countries have begun looking beyond pure monetary measures for assessments of quality of life. The Joint Declaration says that HK's "quality of life" will be unchanged, so we should therefore consider things like waiting times at public hospitals, crime rates, types and levels of corruption, longevity, levels of domestic abuse, service standards at government agencies, childcare facilities, schooling and educational standards, access to higher education, support for non-government agencies, care of the elderly, freedom of the press, internet access and freedom of information, support for business enterprise, respect for human rights, treatment of minorities, air and water quality, workers rights, maternity and paternity leave, rehabilitation and care of prisoners, provision of public transport etc. Many of the things in this incomplete list impact substantially both stability and prosperity.
Too many people have very narrow concepts of what factors contribute to 'prosperity' and to 'stability'. Most people understand that without stability, prosperity is likely to be reduced, or at the very least it will always be at risk.
In fact, in 2020, it would be a complete oversight if we didn't mention the impact of global issues on the darling "prosperity and stability" that both China and Britain saw as being of great importance for HK.
How does the current pandemic that had its beginning in mainland China, has infected masses and killed scores of people, and has impacted every economy on the planet stack up against the Joint Declaration? Surely our health should be a supreme right in HK, as stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights! What use is prosperity if you can hardly breathe, your body is wracked with inflammation and you're on your deathbed? It's clear that in many regards both the CCP and the HK government pay mere lip-service to fundamental human rights that most other people of the world are intent on upholding.
The Coronavirus pandemic has lead to something of a paradigm shift in many people's thinking (see our blog on the Paradigm Shift). Our Earth, animals, people, businesses, corporations and nations are now more interdependent than ever before and we have come to recognise that we cannot just go about our lives ignoring the impact we have on others, or how much we depend on people and things around us.
Besides Covid-19 there are other global health issues to deal with like malnutrition, access to safe drinking water, or AIDS/HIV, as well as crises like climate change and global warming, animal extinction and endangered species, over-fishing, deforestation, droughts and famine, impacts of urbanisation and others that also deserve our attention. Too many people have forgotten that "No man is an island" (John Donne, 1624).
We cannot just carry on with our own insular aims, our narrow definitions of prosperity and stability for HK, without considering the threats to humanity both outside and from within the SAR.
While it has been claimed that pro-democracy protests and anti-government protests in HK over the last 12 months have created instability in the SAR, and hurt the SAR's economy, we must look beyond the civil unrest to see that the behaviour of the CCP and of its puppet government in HK led by Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam have also been particularly destabilising.
Over the last 12 months on this website We The People Of HK have chronicled much of what is going wrong in HK, so please do take a look at some (or all) of these broader issues:
1. The security of China is being put first, over and above that of HK as a Special Administrative Region (see our blog China security versus Hong Kong security) . There is no real distinction for the CCP between threats outside of China, and those from within its borders. Additionally CCP sees no difference between the interests of HK and its own interests. It is not right under the Joint Declaration for HK to be played as the pawn, to be sacrificed by the CCP to achieve some intangible greater good. Nor is it right for HK to suffer just so the CCP can maintain and extend its power base and address CCP security issues - especially those of its own making.
2. The Join Declaration China and Britain signed had a life span of 50 years and is set to expire in 2047. HK people know their history! We are now 27 years out from 2047. Unless the question of what happens after 2047 is resolved soon, HK will remain in decline because of that instability caused by that unknown future, and by the prospect of CCP being in power in China using their rule BY law in HK!
CRITICAL CONTEXT: In 1982 the CCP "squeeze" was on in HK and property prices plunged and real estate development stopped because of worries over the New Territories lease ending in 1997, though it was still 17 years away! British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited HK in Sept 1982 and had to make a deal with China! Public panic over the negotiations sent both the HK dollar and the stock market index into a crashing dive (see the "Talks" section of the Wikipedia entry regarding these negotiations before the handover).
As we get closer to 2047, we are in danger of history repeating itself in similar destabilising ways (see the "1980s and 1990s" section of the Wikipedia entry for HongKong Land).
Any developer or investor who comes to HK now has no guarantee of financial return and the risks over the coming 25 or so years are looking greater than ever.
3. The "One country, two systems" model is not functioning as it is meant to, despite it being held up as the panacea to fix relations between the SAR and Central Government.
HK people have their own identity, and their own political aspirations. Rejuvenating the model, requires adapting it to address the political, socioeconomic, and cultural concerns of the HK public and this is impossible without structural reforms in how political consultation, policy-making, and accountability-maintenance are enacted (see or blog on "China's Hong Kong policy of "One Country, Two Systems") It's not good for business, employment, or prosperity if governance is rife with instability. One body disagrees with what the other does or says, and arguments ensue over who has the authority. We have seen this time and time again! Goodness, even Taiwan has rejected the One Country, Two Systems model as operated by the CCP / Central government of China. Taiwan’s president has said that the “one country, two systems” formula that Beijing espouses had set HK “on the edge of disorder”.
4. The rule of law in HK, so often lauded as being the the most attractive aspect of the city, an international finance centre, has been attacked and undermined repeatedly. The trust that business leaders and individual citizens have in the laws that protect them and directly impact their way of life is fast disappearing. Many have already found HK's legal systems, its judiciary, lawmakers, and enforcement agencies wanting. There is corruption. (see our blog "In Hong Kong absolute power absolutely corrupts!") There is little or no accountability. Where you might expect transparency and public consultation, there is none. Some laws are vague and have been deliberately manipulated, or reinterpreted while others which are outdated have been misused. Enforcement agencies, including the Police have not been consistent in their work as civil servants (see our blog "Police careers in tatters"), and have failed to uphold basic human rights (see our blog "Hong Kong Police have no credibility"). Even the judiciary has been brought into question (see our blog "Hong Kong's Judiciary: Noble? Innocent?").
5. Historically and structurally aspects of the city's governance and economy mean power and authority is wrested in the wealthy elites of HK. Governance in HK has been corrupted.
The city's rail network, for instance is operated by the MTR corporation which is 75% government owned. Besides its rail network it also operates shopping malls and associated residential, office and retail space. The MTR is run as a private monopolistic business entity, yet with the government as its major shareholder it is able to manipulate its business and impact both the HK property market and the wider economy. This in turn has a strong effect on the lives of ordinary citizens and shows that despite claims the SAR operates on the principles of laissez-faire, the facts prove otherwise.
The Legislative Council (LegCo) has a number of “functional constituency” seats, a hangover from the Provisional Legislative Council established at the time of the handover. In LegCo, “functional constituencies” representing different industries and specialized sectors select a large share of council seats, many chosen by pro-Beijing corporate votes. This set-up has allowed business interests to influence government decision-making, ostensibly in the interests of economic prosperity and stability, but in reality it has not served either the needs or the will of the majority of HK citizens well at all.
The HK Government has been slow to act on livelihood issues such as helping those who work long hours for low wages. It took many, many years for them to finally scrap the contentious MPF offsetting mechanism which allowed employers to clawback their compulsory contributions to the employees' retirement fund, so bosses do not have to pay out so much to retiring workers in terms of their long service and severance payments - the taxpayer foots the bill instead!
Rising rents and home prices have out-paced growth in average incomes, making the SAR a very expensive place to live. Property prices have been inflated by mainland developers and the government has been earning most of its revenue from land sales.
6. In November 2019, Pro-Democracy parties won the District Council election in HK by a landslide! ALL the Pro-Democracy candidates supported the protest movement's "5 demands, not 1 less" call - this is the will of the people in action (see our blog on the election outcome). The District Council elections were widely considered a de facto referendum on HK democracy.
Under HK's Constitution (the Joint Declaration) the SAR has a high degree of autonomy from China. Therefore the people's will is that all the pro-democracy movement's 5 demands MUST be met.
7. There is little international support for the behaviour of either the current HK government, or the CCP. The best examples of the international communities' disgust with HK government and CCP are the three letters from the UN which we gathered in three of our blogs! (April 2020, January 2020, June 2019) These are detailed letters reminding both the CCP and the HK government of their human rights responsibilities. The letters give sound examples of violations of human rights and democratic principles. Note that both the CCP and HK government have not yet replied to any of these letters. This is incredibly damaging to CCP and HK government! There have also been several reports on the HK situation issued by various independent human rights organisations.
8. Currently the HK government and the CCP get their power through people's unspoken passive 'consent' or coercion. Time and time again we have experienced structural violence carried out by these monolithic power structures (see our blog "For HK protesters this is personal! part 2"). We the people of HK believe that citizens of the SAR need to actively and strongly grasp their democratic rights, particularly as we head towards September LegCo elections. Our blog, "The most powerful structure is "Pluralistic" People Power!" shows that every civil resistance movement in history is based on people no longer giving their "consent" to oppressive monolithic power structures.
9. The 2019 HK protests are the political stories of the majority of HK people. Individuals and their communities, have been seeking democracy on HK streets because they feel there is no viable alternative (See our blogs "Truth Unmasked part 1 & 2").
10. CCP right NOW considers HK its own to rule and govern, interferes in its affairs and denies the SAR its high degree of autonomy. HK's Joint Declaration is based on the relationship that Scotland and the UK developed over 200 years. Scotland is now doing well, HK is NOT! (see the video below) The problem lies exclusively with China's CCP because the UK has a proven track record and has NOT interfered at all in HK.
11. HK is a Police State created by the colonial British, run by the HK elites, who now serve their new masters - the CCP. The HK elites, HK Government and their Masters the CCP are directly engaged in "structural violence" against the people of HK. For ordinary Hongkongers the anti-government protests they have been engaged in are very much a personal matter. Many of them fled to HK from mainland China to escape the CCP. (See our blog "For HK protesters this is PERSONAL!" part 1 and 2).
12. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 20.3 states (quote):
"The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures." The CCP continues to deny HK people this fundamental human right.
13. There is currently NO legitimate HK government, and it currently acts without the true authority or mandate of the HK people. Moreover, because of the CCP's numerous breaches, the current HK government does NOT and can NOT OPERATE legally.
14. Stability for HK cannot come from any form of repression. Free flows of information on the internet, for example, is a pre-requisite for open business. There is no place for censorship. Laws like the Public Order Ordinance should not be manipulated by the Police or be used against citizens to prevent freedom of expression and freedom of association. The rights of labour unions and their members should similarly be respected. Transparency in government prevents corruption and improves business confidence.
. . . - - - + + + - - - . . .
As suggested by we the people of hk a referendum of HK people is needed to gauge agreement on the action going forwards, and to then carry the results of this ballot out (see our blog "Shaping a referendum for Hong Kong". This is the only way for China and HK government to return to legitimacy under the Joint Declaration, HK's true Constitution. It's the political solution that will chart the way forward for our city, our home, its prosperity and its stability.
Jeremiah B. & Pepe
Post Script :
(We have purposefully not referred in depth to HK's Basic Law which is clearly a SHAM!)
Prosperity and stability in HK before and during the handover were precarious! "The secret negotiations that sealed Hong Kong's future" CNN, 22 June 2017
On Stability and Prosperity in China:
Talk under house arrest: listen to Zhao Ziyang talk about reform.
New York Times October 16, 2019. By Shan Shaojie
Zong Fengming: I can't enter [Zhao] Ziyang's house for half a year. However, I can still understand why he wrote such a letter, such words. Because, Ziyang believes that the living conditions of the Chinese people are still difficult, so there is an urgent need to develop the economy; to develop the economy, it is necessary to maintain social stability, especially at this stage, the Chinese economy as a whole is still relatively fragile and cannot withstand large Social turmoil. Based on this consideration, Ziyang pointed out that if the ruling party's upper levels take the initiative to solve the "June 4th" issue, there will be no violent social unrest in the General Assembly, nor will it affect China's economic development.
The problem is that although the cost of solving social conflicts from top to bottom is relatively small, the possibility is also relatively small, because rulers, especially authoritarian rulers, are mostly selfish and stubborn, and most of them will not take the initiative to the people under their rule will [not] make concessions, and will not humbly put down their bodies and achieve reconciliation with the people under their rule. Of course, there are exceptions, with Jiang Jingguo of Taiwan and Gorbachev of the Soviet Union being the exceptions. Jiang Jingguo took the initiative to open the "Party Ban" and "Report Ban", while Gorbachev actively promoted "new thinking" and "openness."