'The Most Important Thing is For China to Stay Out of Hong Kong's Administration'

2017-06-22
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The former head of Hong Kong's civil service, Anson Chan, speaks to RFA on the approaching 20th anniversary of the handover of the former British colony to China, June 22, 2017.
The former head of Hong Kong's civil service, Anson Chan, speaks to RFA on the approaching 20th anniversary of the handover of the former British colony to China, June 22, 2017.
RFA

The former head of Hong Kong's civil service, Anson Chan, still commands widespread popular support among Hong Kong people. She took part in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, spearheading a high-profile pressure group for universal suffrage. Now, 20 years after the 1997 handover, Chan assesses the incoming chief executive, Carrie Lam, saying she will do a great job if Beijing doesn't interfere in the running of the city:

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government needs to have a certain degree of transparency, but in recent years it has begun to operate far more behind closed doors. The case of the five Causeway Bay booksellers [detained in mainland China for selling 'banned' political books to mainland customers] and a number of interpretations of the Basic Law by the National People's Congress represented even more of an attack [on Hong Kong's autonomy], on its judicial independence, and also on the political neutrality of civil servants. It has also damaged morale among the civil service.

Carrie Lam has ample experience of government, and she has a very good understanding of how public administration works. She has also been a politically appointed public servant for a very long time, and I believe she is fully capable of leading the civil service, and of healing the divisions in today's society.

I think first of all, now that the scene is set, with a new team, Carrie Lam will need to earn the trust and support of the people of Hong Kong, and also to set up a mutually trusting and collaborative relationship between political appointees and the civil service. I think we will see Carrie Lam's leadership put to the test, but the most important thing is for the central government to stay out of her administration.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, and the Basic Law was promulgated in 1990. It is clearly stated in the Basic Law that Hong Kong people are to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, and that Hong Kong people will rule Hong Kong on all matters with the exception of foreign relations and national defense. So why are we seeing this principle getting more and more distorted and diluted, particularly where freedom of speech and assembly and academic freedom are concerned?

The most recent interpretation [of the Basic Law by China's National People's Congress standing committee in November] was announced in a huge rush by the central government before the Hong Kong court had even reached its judgment. This was direct interference with Hong Kong's judicial independence.

You can't force people to have patriotic feelings. They have to come from the person themselves. The central government needs to use arguments to persuade young people to be patriotic. Nobody is opposed to civic education on principle, nor are we opposed to knowing a bit more about our motherland. But if we only talk in public about the good things [about China], if we never breathe or write a word about the bad things that our country has experienced, like the internal upheavals, the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen massacre, then how are young people supposed to learn about their history?

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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