Beijing’s top liaison official in Hong Kong announced earlier today that in his (and Beijing’s) opinion Hong Kong’s chief executive holds power above the executive, legislature and judiciary organs of Hong Kong, effectively declaring the end to any notion that Western-style separation of powers applies in the special administrative region.
Central People’s Government liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming picked quite the occasion to make his feelings known, speaking at an event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution called the Basic Law. Here are some key points of his Basic Law interpretation (via SCMP):
“The chief executive’s dual responsibility [to both Hong Kong and Beijing] means he has a special legal position which is above the executive, legislative and judicial institutions.
“The chief executive’s power is not limited to leading the Hong Kong administration, but has a dual role – [as] head of the Hong Kong government and also the head of the Hong Kong special administrative region. He has responsibility towards both the Central People’s Government and to Hong Kong.”
Zhang added that separation of powers “is usually established in sovereign states,” and therefore can serve as nothing more than a reference for Hong Kong, if that.
“Hong Kong is not using the British or American system… One and a half centuries have passed, if now we copy [the Western system], if we implement separation of three systems and the parliamentary system of the US and UK, and use this to judge whether [society] is democratic, I’m afraid it’s not suitable,” he explained, via Hong Kong Free Press.
Zhang closed his speech by acknowledging that his remarks will likely cause some controversy, but he felt that he must make his own stance very clear.
As Zhang keenly predicted, his comments have sparked a firestorm of concern over whether Beijing plans to make the chief executive position into something more like an emperor, unaccountable to legislative or judiciary organs. The chief executive, of course, is selected by only small groups of elites who largely owe their allegiance to the central government.
According to SCMP here’s what Hong Kong’s mini-constitution has to say about the chief executive’s powers:
According to the Basic Law, the chief executive’s powers and functions include signing bills passed by the Legislative Council and promulgating laws, to appoint or remove judges of the courts at all levels in accordance with legal procedures, and to decide on government policies and to issue executive orders.
It states that he or she is “accountable to the Central People’s Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law”.
Article 64 of that law says that the executive branch “must abide by the law and be accountable to the Legislative Council of the region”.
According to Article 85, meanwhile, Hong Kong’s courts “shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference. Members of the judiciary shall be immune from legal action in the performance of their judicial functions”.
Hong Kong Free Press also reports that the (presumably giddy) current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also spoke at the event remarking that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the principle of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” must be kept within the confines of the Basic Law framework.
To celebrate New Year’s earlier this year, CY Leung called on Hong Kongers to “be more like sheep.”
We’ll see how that goes now.