'Are China's Official Media Commentators Legal Illiterates?'

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Weary pro-democracy demonstrators remain encamped on a major road in Hong Kong, Oct. 13, 2014.
Weary pro-democracy demonstrators remain encamped on a major road in Hong Kong, Oct. 13, 2014.

Whether the decision of the Fourth Plenum of the party's Central Committee lives or dies will depend on whether it has any role to play in the daily lives of the people.

We can look at this from a number of different perspectives. One benchmark would be whether or not thousands upon thousands of petitioners are properly treated, rather than having their complaints fall on deaf ears, even when it's well-known that miscarriages of justice have occurred.

Another benchmark would be whether or not our leaders continue to manufacture fresh miscarriages of justice in future.

Yet another real-life test of the viability of their ideas about the rule of law would be whether or not they suppress dissenting opinions from the people of Hong Kong on the Aug. 31 decision of the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee.

Before the handover

As the whole world knows, the solemn promises of "one country, two systems," "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong," and "a high degree of autonomy" were made to Hong Kong before the [1997] handover by the central government, of its own accord.

Of course, elections in mainland China have Chinese characteristics. Under the "one country, two systems" concept, such things as indirect elections should not be binding on Hong Kong.

Hong Kong people are supposed to be ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, so they should be allowed to make decisions about universal suffrage by themselves.

But the NPC standing committee is of the "legal" opinion, issued in its "decision" of Aug. 31, that Hong Kong people have no need of universal suffrage, their self-ruling autonomy notwithstanding.

According to the NPC standing committee, Hong Kong people only have the right to cast a vote, but only for a shortlist of no more than three candidates dictated by a body under the aegis of the committee, and approved by it.

What does this tell us? It tells us that, "according to law," Hong Kong people only have the right to vote, not to nominate candidates.

It tells us that they can only pick one out of a basket of three candidates selected by the NPC standing committee.

Let me give you a concrete example: If such patriotic candidates previously approved by the NPC happened to be [jailed former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai, [detained former security czar] Zhou Yongkang, or [detained former People's Liberation Army general] Xu Caihou, then the people of Hong Kong would have to elect one of them as chief executive.

Neither is such a scenario beyond the bounds of probability. All three of these gentlemen were tried and tested over a long period of time, and won the attention of the central government!

Would this be in keeping with the principles of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, and a high degree of autonomy? I don't know. But one thing I do know is that "according to law" really means the NPC standing committee ruling Hong Kong at the expense of its people.

The constitution

Is this in keeping with the constitution? I don't know. Of course, the constitution states that any citizen over the age of 18 in the People's Republic of China "has the right to vote, and the right to be elected."

But the NPC standing committee's decision only grants that right to be elected to three people, "according to law."

I can't tell if the rest of the people of Hong Kong are regarded as Chinese citizens or not, in the legal opinion of the NPC standing committee.

The NPC standing committee's decision is undoubtedly authoritative. But should its authority extend to overturning the principle of "one country, two systems" and to subverting the Constitution of the People's Republic of China?

I dare not say. There are probably a lot of other people like me who dare not say, either.

Article 41 of the Constitution states that citizens have the right to criticize and make recommendations to any government body.

Accordingly, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people put forward a dissenting opinion to the NPC, which proceeded to ignore them, "according to law."

Article 35 of the Constitution states that citizens have the freedom to demonstrate and protest.

Accordingly, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people launched the series of protests and demonstrations around Central district, known as "Occupy Central."

Article 123 of the Constitution states that the only state organs with the right to pass judgment are the courts. As far as I know, not a single court has made a judgment in respect of these protests and demonstrations.

Government commentators

And yet, commentators for the mouthpieces of the central government have pre-empted any such judgment with their supposedly legal opinion that the Occupy Central movement is "illegal."

I find this very confusing. Whose actions should be labeled legal—those of the protesters, who are acting within the law, or those of the official media, who are making illegal judgments outside the courts?

Perhaps these official media commentators are legal illiterates, but it seems as if the words "according to law" have taken on an authority that is above the law.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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